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Acupuncture Gains Acceptance in Western Health Care

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Cancer seems to be among acupuncture's few therapeutic limitations, says Cyrus: "We don't treat cancer. ... Once someone has cancer, there's very little someone like me can do except to treat quality of life. We manage side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy quite well. And that goes a long way in terms of the patient's quality of life. Also, [acupuncture] can help keep white blood-cell count elevated."

In fact, every patient's acupuncture experience seems to be different. "No two patients react the same way to this in terms of number of visits, in terms of reaction to treatment," Cyrus tells WebMD. "Sometimes we see miraculous changes. I've had patients who in one visit, it took care of their problem. I've had some come every week for two years."

Certain people should not have acupuncture, including those who are pregnant; who have heart-valve diseases, bleeding disorders, pacemakers, irregular heartbeats, or epilepsy; or who use blood-thinning medication.

And there's a slight chance of side effects: "Some first-time patients may experience what we call needle shock. ... They get dizzy, may get somewhat nauseous," Cyrus says. But this rarely happens, he says, and when it does, it's mainly just a reaction to the needles. "Basically, it's anxiety," he says.

During treatments, he tells WebMD, "you'll feel something, but I wouldn't describe it as pain. ... You do get certain sensations, like an electrical-type sensation shooting through the body, the area may become warm." It's those sensations that tell acupuncturists whether what they're doing is effective, Cyrus says. "We have this concept of 'deqi' -- the arrival of chi at the acupuncture point. It's a very definite sensation that both the patient and I feel as I hold the acupuncture needle."

But how do the patients know that what the practitioners are doing is effective -- can you trust every chiropractor, every physician, who hangs out an acupuncture shingle?

While acupuncture generally won't hurt you, if you head to the acupuncturist without first seeing a Western-trained physician, you miss the Western diagnosis, says C. James Dowden, executive administrator of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. "The problem is, the patient has done the diagnosis and come up with treatment," he says. "And the question is, whether the patient was correct. The appropriate treatment [method] may or may not be acupuncture.

"Acupuncture is an option to the physician, but not the only option. We believe in combining the best of both Eastern and Western worlds of medicine. And clearly that would not be true of someone licensed in only acupuncture. That doesn't mean they are not well trained," he says.

Doctors can get an acupuncture license after 200 hours of training. Accredited schools also offer 2,500-hour training programs in acupuncture for non-physician students as a master's level program. All physician and non-physician practitioners must meet their state 's licensing or registration requirements.

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