Migraines and Acupuncture

Migraines and Acupuncture

Migraines are one of the most common and debilitating illnesses in the UK and globally, so it is worth taking a look at the current treatment and management of this disease and consider alternative options. Research shows that Acupuncture can be effectively used in addition to the usual treatment of migraines or could be considered as a safe alternative.

In September during Migraine Awareness Week, charities such as The Migraine Trust and Migraine Action did an excellent job of highlighting the effects of migraine on individuals, families and the economy as a whole, as well as providing helpful advice and research support into this debilitating illness.

Facts based on research published on their sites show the prevalence of the disease, with chronic migraine affecting approximately 2% of the world’s population; it is the third most common disease behind tension type headaches which is the second most common. The World Health Organisation classifies severe migraine attacks, as among the most disabling illnesses but despite migraines being relatively common, they are a complex neurological disease with no known cause.

In the UK it is estimated that 8 million people suffer with migraines and women are 2.5 times more likely than men to be affected. In addition to the effects on individuals and their families, the economic impact is huge with an estimated 25 million lost days at work or school a year, at a cost of over £2 billion.  It has also been found that depression is also more common in those experiencing migraines and headaches.

The signs and symptoms of migraines can affect the whole body and not just the head. They can include debilitating head pain; numbness or tingling; visual or other sensory disturbances; nausea and/or vomiting. The pain can be moderate to severe and there can be a number of triggers including food and drink.

Treatment for migraines

There is no standard treatment for migraine. The main effect of migraine medications is to change the way cells function and there is an array of over the counter or prescription only treatments that will do this.   They are either used for the acute stages of migraine or as a preventative and although they can be beneficial they can also be associated with adverse side effects (Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 1998). Overuse of medication through increased dosage or frequency can often cause headaches as your body builds up a tolerance.

How acupuncture can help?

Acupuncture can help to alleviate the symptoms of migraines and improve coping mechanisms (Rutberg 2009) as well as addressing the root cause. Chinese medicine’s approach is health is to work with the individual and their body’s capacity to heal itself, so there will always be a personalised approach to any disease or illness. It can work alongside your medication without interference.

Research consistently shows that acupuncture is better than no treatment or basic care for the management of migraines. It appears to be at least as effective as preventative drug therapy with few contraindications or unpleasant side effects (Linde 2009, Wang 2008, Sun 2008, Scott 2008).   Acupuncture can be used as a preventative and it can alleviate symptoms in acute attacks (Li 2009).

Areas where research has shown that acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine are:

  • Relieve Pain through the release of endorphins
  • Reduce inflammation: helping the immune function and the flow of blood through the body and into the brain
  • Reduction of cortical spreading depression: an electrical wave in the brain associated with migraines
  • Affects serotonin levels: low levels of serotonin in the brain have been linked to migraines, also affecting oestrogen levels, with a possible link to hormonal migraines. As 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, diet is a key area for consideration.

For more details of the above and the research behind it, visit the British Acupuncture Council website at https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/migraines.html

Please call or email if you would like more information on how acupuncture can help migraines. 07885 772503/tracey.acupuncture@gmail.com