Acupuncture and AFib: Healing the Heart


A retired doctor is finding success in treating a irregular heartbeat with traditional Chinese medicine. 

Longtime Carson City doctor Bill O’Shaughnessy, M.D., has referred patients to acupuncture, but never thought he would try this method of traditional Chinese medicine.

Following a heart attack in 1999, O’Shaughnessy made several positive lifestyle changes, incorporating daily exercise and adopting a Mediterranean diet. 

But in 2014, he felt a sudden onslaught of alarming symptoms: His heart would race. His chest felt tight. 

“I felt short of breath, very anxious,” O’Shaughnessy says. “Just a very, very uncomfortable feeling.”


He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart beat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and other heart-related complications. Although O’Shaughnessy’s cardiologist suggested some traditional treatments like medication or pulmonary vein ablation, he decided to supplement Western medicine with Eastern after attending Renown’s annual “Trends” conference where doctors and other cardiology staff learned  the latest medical advances for the heart.

Howard Chen, M.D., Renown medical director of Integrative Medicine, gave a lecture on how acupuncture can treat AFib and other heart issues, like high blood pressure. O’Shaughnessy gave the treatment a try, and says “I literally could not feel him put the needles in.”

“It’s been, for me, semi-miraculous,” O’Shaughnessy says.

Dr. Chen currently treats about 10 patients who have AFib with acupuncture.

“Acupuncture helps to decrease the sympathetic activation of the heart or the over activity of the heart,” Dr. Chen says. “And AFib, you can say, is one of those outcomes of the over activity of the heart. It does so by stimulating various nerves — the ones we access through the acupuncture points — which eventually signal the nerves in the brain and eventually calm the heart down.”

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