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Acupuncture May Reduce Stroke Risk for People with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Acupuncture may reduce the heightened risk of stroke for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, new research has found.

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — a chronic condition that causes inflammation and pain in the joints — have a heightened risk of suffering a stroke compared to the general population, but acupuncture may just curb this elevated risk, according to a new study.

The comparative study, published in BMJ Open, found that RA patients treated with acupuncture were 43% less likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke — a result that was independent of age, sex, medication use, and co-existing conditions.

Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that comes from the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine. It involves penetrating the skin with thin needles that are activated through gentle and specific movements of the practitioner's hands, or with electrical stimulation, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

Researchers based in Taiwan and China conducted the study by analyzing data from 23,226 patients from the Registry for Catastrophic Illness Patients Database (RCIPD), all of whom were adults that were newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis between 1997 and 2010.

Roughly half — or 12,266 — of these patients were treated with acupuncture following their RA diagnosis up until the end of December 2010, receiving an average of 10 sessions total, while the rest were not.

Throughout the monitoring period, which concluded at the end of 2011, a total of 341 patients who received acupuncture suffered a stroke, compared with 605 from the group that did not receive acupuncture — representing a risk reduction of 43%.

Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating neuropathy, relieving pain, and attenuating cardiovascular disease in different clinical trials, the study notes. Previous clinical studies also revealed that acupuncture reduced the number of tender joints, relieved morning stiffness and joint pain, enhanced physical activity, and improved quality of life in patients with RA.

Because this is merely an observational study, the authors clarified that they cannot draw firm conclusions about cause and effect when it comes to acupuncture and stroke, and that they have not yet explored the mechanism for how the treatment might work to reduce stroke risk.

But they do have a hypothesis: Inflammation is a major predictor of stroke in RA patients, and it is possible that acupuncture works to interrupt the small proteins that mediate inflammatory reactions, reducing inflammation and thereby reducing stroke risk.

“Unstable blood pressure and lipid profiles are the two risk factors for ischaemic stroke, and acupuncture therapy has the advantage of controlling both hypertension and dyslipidaemia,” the authors added. “If acupuncture relieves morning stiffness and joint pain, patients might also benefit from increasing daily activities, which might also reduce the risk of stroke.”

Approximately 1.3 million adults suffer from RA in the United States, representing 0.6% to 1% of the adult population

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