Help for Headaches: A New Migraine Patch & Acupuncture

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Migraine medications have come a long way in recent years. But with more than 29.5 million Americans enduring the debilitating headaches, according to the National Headache Foundation, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

by Lorie Parch

Thankfully, strides continue to be made. In January, the Food and Drug Administration approved a product containing a drug most migraine sufferers are familiar with sumatriptan, or its brand name, Imitrex in a new form: a patch that’s applied to the upper arm or thigh. The drug is absorbed through the skin, known as transdermal delivery.

“Although consumers are familiar with using a patch for, say, smoking cessation, this is the first patch the FDA has approved to treat migraines,” said Dr. Eric Bastings, deputy director of the FDA’s division of neurology, in an update on the agency’s website.

The patch, named Zecuity, is powered by batteries that use a current to move the medication through the skin over four hours. If you’re someone whose pain is so bad you can’t even swallow a pill, the new patch could offer real relief. The FDA reported that about a quarter of people in a study felt a painful sensation where the patch was applied; reddening of the skin is also a potential side effect. Like other triptans, Zecuity carries the risk of serotonin syndrome, so use caution if you’re taking an SSRI or SNRI antidepressant.

If you want to go drug-free, or add a nondrug complement to your pain medication regimen, consider asking around for a recommendation for an acupuncturist. New data from the journal JAMA Internal Medicine indicates good reason to try a little needling. Using acupuncture to treat chronic pain is nothing new, of course, but neither is controversy about the ancient practice’s efficacy, so the researchers in this study wanted to take a look at large number of clinical trials to determine if acupuncture really worked. They homed in on four specific types of chronic pain: back and neck, shoulder, osteoarthritis, and headache. In total, they examined 29 studies comprising nearly 18,000 patients.

What did they find? Encouraging news. In all the trials, acupuncture was more effective than either fake acupuncture or none at all, for all four pain types. Simply put, the patients who received acupuncture had less pain, and though the effect was modest, it was more than a placebo.

To find a qualified, certified acupuncturist, look on the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine site. And for more information about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for migraine, visit NHF’s Migraine page.

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