Migraines are an extremely debilitating condition, suffered by around one in every 5 women and one in every 15 men [1]. It is ranked globally as the seventh most disabling disease [2]. We might think of migraines being severe headaches but although this might be true – they usually do involve a one-sided headache – they are often accompanied with nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and/or sound. Some people experience numbness or tingling, usually in one hand initially that can then track up to the face and affect lips and tongue. These attacks can last several days at a time so can be very disruptive to normal life, impacting both home and work life.

Despite how common this condition is, we still don’t really know what causes migraines although there does seem to be a temporary change in the nerves, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain when someone is suffering. Because they tend to run in families, there is a thought that there may be a genetic component and some people are aware of certain triggers like specific food, fatigue, stress and for women, it can be linked to a certain time in their cycle. Some preliminary research [3], recently published, showed that there might be a genetic link between migraines, and IBS. The study found that “people with migraine were twice as likely to also have IBS as people with tension headaches”.

It’s important to see your GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms.

Types of migraine

There are several types of migraine, including:

  • migraine with aura – “aura” is the term used for visual disturbances that are specific to a migraine of this kind. They might take the form of flashing lights or zig-zag patterns, or blind spots. The aura can also cause dizziness or difficulty in speaking. These symptoms appear as a warning that a migraine is starting. There are several sub-types of migraine with aura [4]
  • migraine without aura – without the visual disturbances. This is the most common type of migraine and 50-70% of people experience this type
  • migraine aura without headache – also known as a silent migraine, in this case the aura is present along with nausea or other symptoms but not a headache

Traditional treatment

In the past, doctors have tried drilling holes into people’s heads, blood-letting, applying hot irons to the skin and rubbing opium or vinegar into the skull.

These days, traditional treatment approaches generally rely on drugs, which are either taken continually, as a preventative, or when the symptoms start. These may be painkillers or medications that adjust the imbalances in the brain that cause migraines. Other prescriptions might be anti-seizure medication or something that’s used to treat high blood pressure. However, a recent study in the US [5], compared two different migraine drugs that are given to children and found that the drugs were no better than placebo.

Another type of treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a small device that sends magnetic pulses through your skin, into your head. Studies have shown that it can reduce the severity of a migraine.

Most people find they have to lie down in a darkened room to avoid light or noise stimulation. Of course, those who know that they have certain food or drink triggers can avoid them.

Acupuncture and migraine

The NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines for migraines suggest that a course of up to 10 acupuncture sessions over a five to eight week period might be beneficial.

There is a good solid base of research into the effects of acupuncture on migraine sufferers. The general consensus is that acupuncture is better than no treatment and is at least as good as preventative drug therapy. Of course, another benefit is that acupuncture is much less likely to have side effects that can be experienced with taking medication.

Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine by:

  • Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord [6], [7], [8]
  • Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors [9], [10], [11]
  • Reducing the degree of a special electrical wave in the brain associated with migraine [12]
  • Modulating blood flow [13]
  • Affecting serotonin levels in the brain [14]

For more information on the research, you can visit the British Acupuncture Council website. Why not give acupuncture a try and see if it can help you?

What’s the point?

Lung 7 Narrow Defile

  • Around one eighth of the way up the arm, between the wrist crease and the elbow crease
  • To the left of leftmost of the two prominent tendons in the wrist, known as “the tramlines”

Acupuncture points are shared for information only. Interested parties may try using acupressure but needles should only be used by qualified professionals. If you’d like to know more about acupressure, read this great website.

 

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Introduction.aspx[2] https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/facts-figures/[3] https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1434[4] https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/more-than-just-a-headache/[5] http://www.nejm.org/do/10.1056/NEJMdo005113/full/[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18582529[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1781596/[8] Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18355649[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17761638[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1781596/[12] http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/20458901[13] http://ispub.com/IJAM/1/1/4345[14] Zhong G.-W. Li W. Effects of acupuncture on 5-hydroxytryptamine1F and inducible nitricoxide synthase gene expression in the brain of migraine rats.  Journal of Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue Engineering Research. 2007;11(29)(pp 5761-5764)