A patient who thought he was suffering from an aneurysm was found to have an acupuncture needle embedded inside his brain.
Scans revealed the half-inch long ‘gold-colored’ and ‘slightly pointed’ needle lodged within an artery inside the 74-year-old man’s brain.
It was causing internal bleed that was leaving him with memory problems, prompting him to be rushed to the hospital.
His family said the needle had likely been there for two decades because they could only recall him having acupuncture in the early 2000s for a persistent migraine.
The needle was removed via surgery that involved cutting open the skull. The man, from Sichuan, China, survived but died three weeks later after suffering from a lung infection.
The 74-year-old man from Sichuan, China, went to doctors with an acupuncture needle embedded in his brain behind his right eye (pictured). This view shows the underside of the crania that has been flipped, to make the needle appear on the left side
Pictured above is the part of the acupuncture needle that was extracted during surgery. The family said it had been lodged in his brain for two decades
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that involves inserting hundreds of tiny needles into specific points in the body to stimulate energy, known as qi — pronounced “chee”.
Acupuncturists say the method can help to relieve pain, reduce stress and even aid the recovery of joints by helping to stimulate nerves and blood flow in areas receiving the treatment.
But scientific evidence on the method is not conclusive, with only some studies suggesting acupuncture benefits patients.
The tiny needle inside the man was found in an artery that runs through the brain behind the right eye — called the right middle cerebral artery.
It was suggested that the needle may have broken off during an acupuncture treatment and then been carried to the artery behind the eye.
It was not clear what led to the rupture, but this could be linked to a fall, sharp impact to the head or due to the needle’s position shifting in the skull.
The man was rushed to doctors an hour after his memory problems emerged, with family initially fearing he was suffering from an aneurysm.
But scans revealed the needle in his brain as well as a bleed.
To remove the needle, doctors first had to cut out a portion of his skull — in a procedure called a craniotomy — to access his brain.
They then cut through the dura mater, or thick outer coating of the brain, and used a surgical microscope to navigate through the brain to the needle — avoiding vital arteries and structures.
The needle was then removed, and the ruptured blood vessel was closed using a very small metallic clip to close the ruptured part of the vessel.
After the surgery, the man initially recovered well — and was taken off his ventilator ten days later.
But he then developed a lung infection while in hospital — and died three weeks after surgery.
Doctors said the infection may have been linked to him being made unconscious for the operation, which disables the body’s natural defenses to infections of the lungs such as a cough or gag reflex.
Doctors diagnosed the man with an intracranial pseudoaneurysm — which is when blood leaks out of a vessel in the brain but is held in place by surrounding tissue.
They differ from a true aneurysm, which is when a vessel wall weakens and balloons out as blood collects within it.
Pseudoaneurysms are extremely rare and are behind less than five percent of all arterial punctures.
Doctors said this case was the first recorded in the medical literature of a man having a pseudoaneurysm caused by an acupuncture needle.
Previous cases have been caused by infections damaging arteries in the brain as well as head trauma — or sharp impacts to the head.
The case was revealed in the Journal of Medical Case Reports.
Writing in the paper led by Dr Qiang Li, a neurosurgeon at the Hospital of Southwest Medical University in China, the authors said: ‘Intracranial pseudoaneurysms induced by foreign bodies represent a challenging and rare… entity, necessitating prompt diagnosis and intervention.
‘The rarity of such occurrences underscores the critical importance of maintaining a high index of suspicion, particularly in cases involving recent medical trauma or craniocerebral injuries.’