For many women, the excitement of expecting a new bundle of joy is often clouded by common prenatal symptoms like nausea or dizziness. These issues often diminish as the weeks go on, but some symptoms linger long into pregnancy.
One particular concern that greatly impacts the quality of life of an expecting mother is migraine headaches. Unlike other prenatal symptoms that wane with pregnancy progression, migraines can be difficult to manage and may occur at any point in the pregnancy cycle.
Migraine headaches effect an estimated 25% of women in their lifetimes. Often, migraines are caused by fluctuations in hormones (specifically estrogen) and the intensity of these fluctuations can determine the severity of the migraine. When a woman becomes pregnant, her hormones change rapidly, opening the door for migraine headaches to wreak havoc.
Migraines – Not to be Ignored
When accompanied by high blood pressure, the presence of migraines in pregnancy can mark an increased risk of pregnancy complications like preeclampsia.
While there are medications and a variety of potential therapies available to combat prenatal headaches, there’s reason for concern about taking drugs during pregnancy, especially during the early weeks.
Unlike known potential risks to the fetus associated with NSAIDs and unknown risks associated with prescription medications, acupuncture provides safe and effective treatment for reducing and preventing migraines, all while naturally supporting a healthy pregnancy.
By recalibrating the body’s hormone levels, reducing pain, and improving the body’s structural integrity, acupuncture and adjunctive therapies can be the natural solution for many suffering women.
The Acupuncture Approach to Treating Migraines in Pregnancy
Migraines, like many disorders and illnesses, are treated as patterns of imbalance in Chinese medicine. Different patterns require different types of treatments and varying acupuncture points may be used.
There are a common patterns that tend to show up in pregnancy for those who develop migraines, including:
Blood Deficiency and Yin Deficiency
This pattern is characterized by a lack of nourishing blood and fluids (yin) for the body and developing baby, and often sets the stage for yang excess (excessive moving, active, or heat energy) to occur as well.
According to Grace Kwon, “During pregnancy, there is increased blood flow to the uterus and the fetus. Subsequently, the head becomes undernourished and exhibits symptoms of blood deficiency, such as persistent dull pain in the head, palpitations and blurred vision. Yin deficiency is also noted in these cases, causing Yang to be in relative excess. Frequent headaches, dizziness and tinnitus are all manifestations of Yang hyperactivity and Yin deficiency.”
Liver Yang Rising
Another potential pattern, often occurring as a resulting imbalance of yin and blood deficiency, is Liver dysfunction. Kwong continues, “The characteristics of a migraine headache may be explained by the various disharmony patterns in the liver and its meridian. The stagnation of Liver Qi typically causes a unilateral pulsating pain. When the meridian and collaterals are obstructed by blood stasis, a persistent pulsating pain may be experienced. Common associated features such as tinnitus, blurred vision and irritability are due to the hyperactivity of liver Yang.”
While this may sound a little foreign, it is just another way of understanding the pathophysiology of migraines in Chinese medical terms.
Overall, migraines in pregnancy can result from a variety of factors, including a predisposition to migraine as a symptom of hormonal fluctuations, or constitutional tendencies of the patient.
Beneficial Side Effects
Patients often find that seemingly unrelated symptoms or quality of life improve through the treatment of migraines with acupuncture.
Sleep, mood, and energy levels are common areas where patients experience improvements, in addition to migraine relief.
When treating migraines, acupuncturists pay special attention to the whole picture of the woman’s health – not just the symptom of migraines. This individualized and holistic perspective ensures treatment never “masks” pain, but delivers a safe and comprehensive approach to care, with unexpected benefits.
Acupuncture Research on Pregnancy Migraines
While research on acupuncture and migraines has been done in several capacities, there are fewer studies on acupuncture for migraines in pregnant women. One study, however, has shown acupuncture to be a promising therapy in this population.
This study from the European Journal of Integrative Medicine has concluded that “acupuncture alleviates tension-type headaches during pregnancy” after a trial involving 43 pregnant women. These women were divided into two groups: routine care and acupuncture. Over 8 weeks, the women documented their pain levels, mood, sleep quality, and work ability.
The authors of the study report, “No important adverse effects related to acupuncture treatment or to pregnancy’s outcome were reported. Significant improvements were demonstrated for pain at the end of the trial in the study group, 3.9 vs 1.7 difference in favor to acupuncture group (p < 0.05). This group also used less medication and had a greater improvement in mood and sleep when compared with the control group.”
This study provides a strong basis of evidence that acupuncture can be a useful and safe therapy for pregnant women who are suffering from migraines. Not only can acupuncture alleviate their pain, but it positively affects their daily quality of life, sleep, and general functioning.
Acupuncture Safety in Pregnancy Migraine Treatment
During pregnancy, many women struggle to find ways to treat their health concerns without the fear of negatively impacting their pregnancy.
A natural and holistic approach is often desired, but many women are still wary of acupuncture and how it may affect their pregnancy. Fortunately, there is nothing to fear. Daniela Freda explains, “Acupuncture continues to be researched around the world as a natural approach to treat many medical conditions. Acupuncture has been shown to be safe in pregnancy. In all the studies to date on the use of acupuncture in pregnancy, none of these studies have shown any adverse effects from acupuncture.”
While some biomedical approaches to migraine treatment have been deemed safe in pregnancy, some medications and therapies are not recommended. NSAID use may have an impact on miscarriage rates when used in early pregnancy, and premature closure of the fetal ductus arteriosus and oligohydramnios in late pregnancy. Common drugs like sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, naratriptan are contraindicated in pregnancy, as are many of the prophylactic medications.
Acupuncture treatment shines when it comes to both acute and preventative treatment of migraines in pregnancy, with few to no negative side effects.
A Natural Choice for Migraine-Free Pregnancies
In this special time where every health decision carries a heavier weight, many women will find peace and safety in their choice to consider acupuncture over drugs or medications while pregnant. Due to the specialized and gentle nature of acupuncture, this therapy presents a welcome alternative to drugs and a healthy to migraine in pregnancy.
Each patient is treated individually in the context of Chinese medicine and acupuncturists may differ slightly in their approach. For the best outcome, seek out a licensed acupuncturist trained in pregnancy care.