Acupuncture for Migraines during Pregnancy
Migraines are headaches with recurrent attacks, which can last for several days. They are sometimes preceded by a visual aura and can involve nausea and vomiting. The headache is usually on one side of the head, perhaps around the temple, and is often severe and maybe pounding.
Migraines can be affected by hormonal changes during pregnancy; women who have suffered from migraines before getting pregnant can sometimes find the condition gets worse during pregnancy for this reason (although in some cases women find that their migraines actually improve during pregnancy!). Likewise some women who have not experienced migraine before pregnancy may get them during pregnancy.
Migraine in Pregnancy and TCM
Migraines usually arise because of a relative excess of Yang energy (or Yang Qi). The Yang element is the active and dynamic side of our nature, whereas the Yin element is the quiet, reflective side. Our natural state is one where the Yin and Yang balance each other, leading our body to function harmoniously, but if there is an excess of either element we begin to experience symptoms.
It is in the nature of Yang to rise, and if unchecked by insufficient Yin it rushes up along one or more meridians until it reaches the head, where it has nowhere else to go, and where it as it were, bangs against the head, causing the typical throb of a migraine. In the first instance therefore, TCM treatment aims to root the Yang, hold it down, and stop it rising up ‘rebelliously’. Acupuncture is usually an effective means to this end.
Moreover, treatment also needs to address the imbalance which is causing the Yang to rise. This may mean that the Yin needs to be nourished, and for this acupuncture will help, as will including Yin nourishing foods in our diet, and taking appropriate rest and relaxation. The pressures of modern life (for example long working hours, a precarious work-home life balance and insufficient relaxation time) can mean that our Yin gets a raw deal!
Another factor causing the Yang to rise is Qi Stagnation, where the Qi is not flowing freely, often due to stress and tension. This makes it more likely that the Yang Qi will rush upwards sporadically. Acupuncture and appropriate exercise and self-expression will free up the Qi, stop the Yang Qi rushing upwards at random intervals and thus help to stop the migraines.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Migraine?
A large scale trial involving 400 patients in GP practices1 found that acupuncture was more than twice as effective as the standard treatment for chronic headaches (of all kinds), and resulted in better improvement in quality of life than conventional medicines. This trial recommended that acupuncture should be more widely available for headache patients on the NHS and concluded that:
“Acupuncture leads to persisting, clinically relevant benefits for primary care patients with chronic headache, particularly migraine”
A more recent large scale trial in Germany2, with almost 800 migraine sufferers participating, found acupuncture to be more effective than drug treatment in the prevention of chronic headache and migraine.
1 Vickers A et al (2004) Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial BMJ 2004;328:744
2 Streng A et al (2007) Effectiveness and Tolerability of Acupuncture Compared With Metoprolol in Migraine Prophylaxis Headache. 2006;46(10):1492-1502