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J Intern Med. 2003 Feb;253(2):181-8.

Acupuncture versus placebo versus sumatriptan for early treatment of migraine attacks: a randomized controlled trial.

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Department of Internal Medicine II, Center for Complementary Medicine Research, Technical University, Kaiserstrasse 9, 80801 Munich, Germany.



To investigate whether acupuncture is superior to placebo and equivalent to sumatriptan for the early treatment of an acute migraine attack.


Randomized, partly double-blind (sumatriptan versus placebo) trial.


Two hospitals in Germany (one specialized in traditional Chinese medicine and one in the treatment of headache).


A total of 179 migraineurs experiencing the first symptoms of a developing migraine attack.


Traditional Chinese acupuncture, sumatriptan (6 mg subcutaneously) or placebo injection.


Number of patients in whom a full migraine attack (defined as severe migraine headache) within 48 h was prevented. In patients who developed a migraine attack in spite of early treatment, acupuncture and sumatriptan were applied a second time, whilst patients initially randomized to placebo received sumatriptan.


A full migraine attack was prevented in 21 of 60 (35%) patients receiving acupuncture, 21 of 58 (36%) patients receiving sumatriptan and 11 of 61 (18%) patients receiving placebo (relative risk of having a full attack 0.79 (95% CI, 0.64-0.99) for acupuncture versus placebo, and 0.78 (95% CI, 0.62-0.98) for sumatriptan versus placebo). Response to the second intervention in patients who developed a full attack was better with sumatriptan (17/31 patients who received sumatriptan twice and 37/46 patients who had had placebo first) than with acupuncture (4/31). The number of patients reporting side-effects was 14 in the acupuncture group, 23 in the sumatriptan group and 10 in the placebo group.


In this trial acupuncture and sumatriptan were more effective than a placebo injection in the early treatment of an acute migraine attack. When an attack could not be prevented, sumatriptan was more effective than acupuncture at relieving headache.

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