Systematic Review of Episodic Migraine Prophylaxis: Efficacy of Conventional Treatments Used in Comparisons with Acupuncture

Med Acupunct. 2019 Apr 1;31(2):85-97. doi: 10.1089/acu.2019.1337. Epub 2019 Apr 19.


Objective: A Cochrane Systematic Review published by Linde et al. in 2016 found moderate evidence suggesting that acupuncture is "at least non-inferior" to conventional prophylactic drug treatments (flunarizine, metoprolol, and valproic acid) for episodic migraine prophylaxis. The evidence for the efficacy of these conventional treatments must be verified to strengthen and validate the original comparison made in Linde et al.'s 2016 review. The aim of the current authors' systematic review was to verify the efficacy of the conventional treatments used in Linde et al.'s 2016 comparison with acupuncture. Materials and Methods: Search strategies were applied to find studies that could verify the efficacy of conventional treatments for treating episodic migraines. Relevant outcomes and dosages were extracted from the retrieved studies. Each study's quality was assessed, using the Cochrane's collaboration tool for assessing risk of bias and the Cochrane GRADE [Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation] scale. Results: There is high-quality evidence suggesting that prophylactic drug treatment, at the treatment dosage ranges used in Linde et al.'s 2016 review, reduced headache frequency at a 3-month follow-up, compared to placebo. Headache frequency at a 6-month follow-up, and responses (at least 50% reduction of headache frequency) at 3-month and 6-month follow-ups could not be assessed. Conclusions: These findings strengthened Linde et al.'s 2016 comparison of conventional treatments and acupuncture for reducing headache frequency at a 3-month follow-up. For episodic migraine prophylaxis, moderate evidence suggests that acupuncture is "at least non-inferior," to now-proven, conventional treatments. This raises significant questions in the debate concerning claims that acupuncture is a placebo-based treatment and the prescriptions of proven conventional treatments that have similar effects as acupuncture.

Keywords: acupuncture; drug therapy; migraine prophylaxis.

Publication types

  • Review