Congestive heart failure (CHF), also known as heart failure, occurs when the heart cannot properly pump blood to the body, and sufficiently supply the blood (and nutrients, including oxygen) that the organs require for proper functioning.


It can be caused by conditions that either weaken or stiffen the heart muscles or those that increase demands on the heart beyond its ability to deliver sufficient oxygen to vital organs.  These conditions include: coronary artery disease (heart disease), hypertension (high blood pressure, a previous heart attack,  that has caused scar tissue formation which interferes with the heart’s functioning, heart valve disease, infections of the heart, and heart deficits. 


Congestive heart failure can diminish the functioning of other organs, including the kidneys, which can lose their ability to properly manage the body’s water and sodium content, which causes fluid retention.  The lungs subsequently can retain fluid and become congested, causing pulmonary edema.   It literally impacts every organ in the body.


Because the heart is not working properly, people experiencing this condition can’t exert themselves and tend to become fatigued very easily and short of breath.


A group of German researchers at the Heidelberg University Hospital have determined that while resting acupuncture had no impact on heart function.  However, after walking for six minutes, there was a remarkable increase in certain parameters of heart function, in a group of patients with congestive heart failure.


Prior to the study they were experiencing mild or significant limitation of their daily activities, while on optimized medication.  The group of 17 were randomized to receive acupuncture or the placebo.


Exercise intolerance is a condition where the patient is unable to do physical exercise at the level or for the duration that would be expected of someone in his or her general physical condition, or experiences unusually severe post-exercise pain, fatigue, or other negative effects.


After exercise recovery and ventilatory (breathing) efficiency improved in the acupuncture group.  The placebo group participants experienced no change.  


The project  leader Dr Johannes Backs, head of the research group at the department of cardiology at Heidelberg University Hospital said: ‘This is the first indication that acupuncture may improve exercise tolerance in CHF patients- when given in addition to optimized standard heart failure medication.’


The participants were randomly placed in the acupuncture or placebo group.  The placebo group received needle treatments that did not pierce the skin.


No improvement in cardiac ejection fraction or peak oxygen uptake was seen. But the six minute walk distance was ‘remarkably increased’ in the acupuncture group by 32m on average, compared to a drop of 1m in the placebo group.