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Acupuncture Therapy Helps Prevent Migraine

Acupuncture, the most frequently used preventive treatment of migraine in Germany, was as effective as common drug therapies in a large, prospective clinical trial published online in The Lancet Neurology on March 2.

For his acupuncture study, Dr. Hans-Christoph Diener, from University Essen, and colleagues in Germany recruited patients who had between two and six migraine attacks every 4 weeks, and were diagnosed at least 26 weeks before study entry.
During acupuncture sessions, manually stimulated needles inserted in traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture points. Some patients were assigned to sham acupuncture, in which needles were inserted in areas with no known acupuncture points and with no manual stimulation.

Patients in the acupuncture groups received 10 to 15 30-minute sessions in which up to 25 needles were inserted.

The remaining 187 patients were randomly assigned to drug treatment -- beta-blockers, flunarizine, or valproic acid. All patients kept migraine diaries for 4-week periods prior to assessments at baseline, 13 weeks, and 26 weeks.

In the intent-to-treat population, there were mean reductions in headaches per month after 26 weeks of 2.3 days in the actual acupuncture group, 1.5 days in the sham group, and 2.1 days in the drug group.

There was no significant difference among the groups of people whose migraines were treated with acupuncture or drugs.

However, pain intensity in the acupuncture group was lower compared with the other two groups.

"Ultimately, one could argue that the efficacy of a treatment, especially a treatment with almost no adverse events or contraindications, is more important than the knowledge of the mechanism of action of this particular therapy," Dr. Diener and his associates conclude.

The mode of action of many drugs approved for migraine treatment, including beta-blockers and anticonvulsants, is also unknown, they add.