Pins and needles: How acupuncture can help soothe an irregular heartbeat

Cardiac arrhythmia describes an irregular heartbeat caused by an interruption of electrical impulses in heart function. This group of conditions can be further broken down into bradycardia (slow heartbeat), tachycardia (fast heartbeat), flutter or fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), or premature contraction (early heartbeat). While most types of heart arrhythmia are relatively harmless (caused by a sudden stressful event or excessive coffee consumption, for example), there are cases wherein arrhythmia may be a symptom of a weakened or damaged heart.

People who regularly experience any form of arrhythmia are more at risk of a stroke or heart failure. Because the heart is not functioning properly, it is unable to pump enough blood to the body and its organs. This becomes extremely dangerous if left untreated.

That said, modern treatments for arrhythmia are potentially fatal, with the side effects of these drugs being very hard to manage. Anti-arrhythmic drugs have been observed to induce severe heart palpitations and cause weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness. It’s ironic that it’s the medicine that’s often the cause of an illness it’s meant to cure.

Hope can be found in traditional medicine, particularly in the practice of acupuncture. A systematic review of nine randomized controlled trials on the efficacy of conventional acupuncture (CA) for cardiac arrhythmia revealed that this alternative treatment is a safe and natural way to improve heart health. (Related: Chinese Medicine prescription found to improve heart function in those with dilated cardiomyopathy.)

For the purposes of this study, researchers looked at nine medical databases including MEDLINE (PubMed and OVID), EMBASE (OVID), the Allied and Alternative Medicine Database (OVID), CINAHL (EBSCO), the Cochrane Library, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chinese Scientific Journals Database (VIP), Wanfang Database and Chinese Biomedical Database (CBM) until February 2016. After testing for all their search parameters, only nine studies qualified, with one study having a definite low risk of bias, seven trials rated as “unclear,” and one noted to have a high bias.

A meta-analysis of these studies revealed that acupuncture helped reduce the incidence and severity of cardiac arrhythmia when done by a trained and reputable acupuncturist. It was likewise concluded that acupuncture improved heart health by reducing the risk of ventricular premature heartbeat among the patients.

These findings were published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine.

Home remedies you can try

Popping a pill should never be your first response to an irregular heartbeat. Here are some natural strategies you should consider first: (h/t to

  • Take deep breaths — Become mindful of your breathing. Let your belly expand with each inhalation. Most of the time, an irregular heartbeat is caused by stress, so focusing on slow, steady breathing can return you to a normal rhythm.
  • Try the Valsalva maneuver — Pinch your nose, close your mouth, then try to exhale. Since you can’t (because both your mouth and nose are closed), you will immediately bear down as if you forcing a bowel movement. The brief rise in blood pressure can help reset your heart.
  • Drink cold water — There is research that suggests that gulping down cold water can return your heart rhythms back to normal.
  • Relax with aromatherapy — Sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil onto a handkerchief and inhale the relaxing aroma. You may also try rubbing a few drops of bitter orange oil on your chest.
  • Cut back on caffeine — Drinking too much coffee, tea, or soft drink can trigger palpitations.
  • Meditate — Learn to calm down. Practice gratitude and think of things that relax and make you happy.

Remember that having a heart condition is not a life sentence. There are many ways to reverse it, and most of them are natural. Learn more about these strategies at

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