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Last Updated: Monday, 4 September 2006, 02:31 GMT 03:31 UK
Can acupuncture cure my migraine?
BSIP,V&L/ Science Photo Library
Migraines often have identifiable triggers
Migraine affects up to 15% of the UK population - around two thirds of sufferers are women.

To mark Migraine Awareness week, Jane Elliott, a health reporter at BBC News, talks about a lifetime with the condition and how acupuncture is offering a respite.

Even as a tiny baby, I am told, I used to hold my head, go pale, and vomit.

As I grew older the migraines started to follow a more defined pattern.

It seemed that anything that I liked and enjoyed could prove a trigger: chocolate, too much orange juice, Coca cola, excitement over parties or school trips.

In the end my parents would not tell me about a planned treat until minutes before we left in the hope I would keep calm and avoid 'getting worked up'.

I can remember a sudden attack on the way home from school, aged about 10, left me in agony, being sick on the roadside and wondering how I was going to manage the short distance home.


And as I got older, I quickly learnt that even a small glass of red wine always has disastrous results, although I can drink small amounts of white wine with no ill effect.

Exhaustion is another big trigger, and as a mother of two young children I have found the frequency of my attacks increasing over the last four years.

First comes hours of excruciating pain and feelings of depressing nausea, then a welcome relief as I eventually vomit and as the pain recedes and I can fall into sleep
Jane Elliott

I know I can probably survive with one broken night's sleep, but any more than that will always mean a migraine.

In any given month I can have between one and six attacks, although during both pregnancies I was migraine free.

Some weeks are so bad that I get one horrendous attack and what I can only describe as aftershocks over the next few days.

Darkened room

In the worst attacks I am so debilitated that the pain, concentrated mainly on my left temple, seems unbearable and I have to retire to a darkened room.

First comes hours of excruciating pain and feelings of depressing nausea, then a welcome relief as I eventually vomit and as the pain recedes and I can fall into sleep.

My migraines last on average eight hours - some people suffer days of pain.

Jane Elliott
Jane intends to keep using acupuncture

Over the years I have tried every sort of pain relief, from over-the-counter headache tablets - which only work sometimes in the very early stages - to targeted migraine drugs, which worked on many of the attacks but left me feeling nauseous.

This year, after my migraines reached an intolerable level and I found myself getting as many as three attacks a week, I decided to take immediate action.

My doctor recommended Imigran Recovery (sumatriptan), which has recently been made an over-the counter drug. He warned me that it didn't work for everyone - but it worked for me.

If I took the tablets everywhere with me and took them as soon as I started to feel the familiar warning signs they did not develop.

Not wanting to become reliant on too many drugs however, I decided to explore other ways of alleviating my migraine.

My mother recommended acupuncture, and I must admit that I was at first sceptical.

She had seen a TV programme which seemed to show a link between acupuncture and migraine relief, and she offered to pay for a course of treatments for me to see if it worked.

I didn't hold out much hope of it working, but was prepared to give it a go.

Diet changes

As well as the acupuncture, I was told to make some changes to my diet - only two cups of tea a day and no diet Coke (I normally have at least six teas daily and about one or two diet cokes a week).

Christina, my acupuncturist, warned that I was using the caffeine to boost my energy levels and advised more water instead. Cutting out the caffeine from my diet was extremely hard and I had more than a few withdrawal symptoms, although in the long-term a relatively caffeine free diet is no bad thing for my overall health.

Department of Nuclear Medicine, Charing Cross Hospital/Science Photo Library
A scan of the brain during a migraine

Sessions took an hour and consisted of gentle head massage as well as the strategically placed acupuncture needles.

The first week I had two attacks, the next week I had one and I was beginning to worry that I might be one of those for whom acupuncture did not work.

But at the start of week three I had a revelation - no migraines.

I went for treatment once a week for about two months and was completely migraine free. Apart from pregnancy this was a first.

Over three months later I have had one bad migraine (last week) which I put down to an enforced break of six weeks, while the acupuncturist and I both had three week holidays.

But I am amazed it has worked. I have read reports which say acupuncture and sham acupuncture both work, although other reports have disputed that.

To be honest I don't care whether it is real, or as some say an effect 'in my mind'.

I can't explain why it worked for me. All I can say is that it has worked for me and I intend to keep going.



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