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Migraines are recognised as the most common neurological condition in the developed world. They are said to be more common than asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy combined with eight million migraine sufferers in the UK alone and an estimated 200,000 migraine attacks every day! The World Health Organisation classifies migraine headaches as being among the most disabling of illnesses.

What are the Symptoms of Migraines?

A migraine is a severe, painful, ‘splitting’ headache. A migraine is very often accompanied by light flashes, blackouts, tingling sensations in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and/or sound. The severe pain that is associated with a migraine headache is often throbbing or pulsating in nature and can typically last from 2-72 hours. The person experiencing the migraine usually has a need to stay quiet and still, often preferring to remain in total darkness until the migraine subsides.

What Causes a Migraine? – A Western Medical Perspective

The underlying cause of migraine headaches is not entirely clear but they are believed to be related to a combination of environmental and genetic factors that cause blood vessel enlargement and the release of chemicals from nerve fibres that coil around these enlarged blood vessels. Migraines run in families in about two-thirds of cases. There are also a number of psychological conditions that are associated with migraine headaches including; anxiety, depression and also bipolar disorder as well as many biological events or ‘triggers’ that have been associated with starting a migraine headache.


Many migraine sufferers report some form of ‘trigger’ that influences the onset of a migraine headache. Many things have been labelled as triggers but the strength and significance of the relationship between these triggers and the migraine is uncertain. A trigger is something that the individual themselves may have come to be aware of from a personal perspective that triggers their own personal migraine headache. A trigger may be encountered up to 24 hours prior to the onset of the symptoms of a migraine headache. Common triggers that have been quoted are stress, hunger, and fatigue.

Physiological Aspects

Migraines often occur before or near the menstrual cycle. Other hormonal influences, such as menarche (the first menstruation in young women), pregnancy, menopause, and the use of oral contraception can also affect the onset of migraines. Typically migraines do not occur during the second and third trimesters or following menopause.

Dietary Aspects

Dietary triggers tend to be somewhat from a personal perspective and all evidence related to these dietary triggers rely mostly on self-reports. It is therefore not clear enough to provide clear information regarding triggers associated with migraines. Many people do however report a benefit of eating healthier with a reduction in dairy products such as full fat cheese, milk and pastries etc. Chocolate has been known as a trigger for many sufferers.

Environmental Aspects

Again there is no clear review on potential triggers in the environment either indoors or outdoors. However, it is sometimes suggested that people who suffer with migraines should take some preventive measures related to indoor air quality and lighting. Traditional Chinese medicine recognises that cold air and environmental wind can bring on headaches. This may be influential to those who suffer from migraines.

Acupuncture for Migraines

The application of acupuncture for the treatment migraines is very common as many people suffer from this condition. The cause of migraine headaches from a Traditional Chinese Medical perspective is different from the Western medical view. The main cause of migraine headaches in TCM diagnosis is due to ‘Liver Fire Rising’. This is a common Chinese medical syndrome of an excess heat nature. It involves the upward movement of heat caused by constrained liver qi due to inherent weakness, poor diet or sudden emotional changes, or a combination of two or all three factors. Common signs of this TCM pattern are; splitting headaches, red face and eyes, thirst, dizziness, ringing in the ears, temporary sudden deafness, insomnia, irritability, and periodic excessive anger. Many or all of these signs are common experiences for sufferers of migraines.

Acupuncture points selected for the treatment of migraines are located at the local area of the head as well as distally. The acupuncture points Liv-2 and Liv-3 may be selected as very effective distal acupuncture points for the treatment of migraines. Liv-2 is a reducing acupuncture point that is very effective at reducing many common headaches often associated with the liver and gallbladder. Liv-3 is also a very effective acupuncture point for harmonising the Liver and a long-term benefit for migraines and most headaches generally. There are other acupoints, not mentioned here, that are also selected for the treatment of migraines and headaches in general.

The application of acupuncture for migraine treatment has proven to be very helpful to many people during and in-between migraine flare-ups. Having an acupuncture treatment for migraine headaches is well-worth trying, you may be surprised at the results.

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