The World Health Organization Reviews Clinical Trials of Acupuncture

The World Health Organization has issued a report entitled "Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials", listing four categories of diseases and disorders for which acupuncture may be considered to be effective. The review may be ordered at a link at the bottom of this page. A short summary of the findings of the review, published in 2002, follows:

Diseases, Symptoms or Conditions for Which Acupuncture has been Proved Through Controlled Trials to be an Effective Treatment

Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy, allergic rhinitis (including hay fever), biliary colic, depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke), acute bacillary dysentery, primary dysmenorrhoea, acute epigastralgia (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm), facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders), headache, essential hypertension, primary hypotension, induction of labour, knee pain, leukopenia, low back pain, correction of malposition of fetus, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, neck pain, pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction), periarthritis of shoulder, postoperative pain, renal colic, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, sprain, stroke, tennis elbow.

Diseases, Symptoms or Conditions for which the Therapeutic Effect of Acupuncture has been Shown but for Which Further Proof is Needed

Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm), acne vulgaris, alcohol dependence and detoxification, bell's palsy, bronchial asthma, cancer pain, cardiac neurosis, chronic cholecystitis with acute exacerbation, cholelithiasis, competition stress syndrome, closed craniocerebral injury, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, earache, epidemic haemorrhagic fever, simple epistaxis (without generalized or local disease), eye pain due to subconjunctival injection, female infertility, facial spasm, female urethral syndrome, fibromyalgia and fasciitis, gastrokinetic disturbance, gouty arthritis, hepatitis b virus carrier status, herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3), hyperlipaemia, hypo-ovarianism, insomnia, labour pain, lactation deficiency, non-organic male sexual dysfunction, ménière disease, post-herpetic neuralgia, neurodermatitis, obesity, opium, cocaine and heroin dependence, osteoarthritis, pain due to endoscopic examination, pain in thromboangiitis obliterans, polycystic ovary syndrome (stein-leventhal syndrome), postextubation in children, postoperative convalescence, premenstrual syndrome, chronic prostatitis, pruritus, radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome, primary raynaud syndrome, recurrent lower urinary-tract infection, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, traumatic retention of urine, schizophrenia, drug-induced sialism, sjögren syndrome, sore throat (including tonsillitis), acute spine pain, stiff neck, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, tietze syndrome, tobacco dependence, tourette syndrome, chronic ulcerative colitis, urolithiasis, vascular dementia, whooping cough (pertussis)

Diseases, Symptoms or Conditions for Which There are Only Individual Controlled Trials Reporting Some Therapeutic Effects, but for Which Acupuncture is Worth Trying Because Treatment by Conventional and Other Therapies is Difficult

Chloasma, central serous choroidopathy, colour blindness, deafness, hypophrenia, irritable colon syndrome, neuropathic bladder in spinal cord injury, chronic pulmonary heart disease, small airway obstruction

Diseases, Symptoms or Conditions for which Acupuncture may be Tried Provided the Practitioner has Special Modern Medical Knowledge and Adequate Monitoring Equipment

Breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coma, convulsions in infants, coronary heart disease (angina pectoris), diarrhoea in infants and young children, late stage viral encephalitis in children, progressive bulbar and pseudobulbar paralysis


It is important to utilize the concept of controlled clinical trials to learn more about the factors leading to successful treatment with acupuncture. The limitations of such trials are that individual factors and patient characteristics are de-emphasized, and individualized treatments are not possible. It may be possible to obtain better results if treatment is individualized, and this will obviously be impossible to to study using standardized trials. However, the review by the World Health Organization is a helpful addition to the increasing body of research supporting the use of Traditional Chinese medicine.