Pain medication for headache may increase head pain!

Choice magazine, the well respected, independent assessor of products on the market, has recently published their results on pain medication for headache. They have suggested that analgesic overuse is becoming a "major medical issue" with at least one per cent of the population now suffering from "medication overuse headache" (MOH). These headaches can arise from taking as few as ten doses of painkillers for headaches in a month and the commonly used paracetamol (panadol), NSAIDs (nurofen, voltaren), codeine and triptans are all being implicated.

The diagnosis of MOH is made if the headaches occur on more than 15 days per month for at least three consecutive months, in conjunction with the regular use of painkillers. It is now the third-most common headache after tension-type and migraine headaches.
So while over-the-counter analgesic medications may be a fast, short acting remedy for headaches, the longer term use may alter the pain processing mechanisms in the brain. This creates a situation where the patient becomes over-sensitised and this may result in more frequent headaches. The cycle is perpetuated and often more medication is sought. Stopping the medication may even end in withdrawal symptoms and significantly more pain.

Chiropractic management of headaches may help sufferers of headache by way of treatment, rehabilitation and advice. Initially, the most important thing for the headache sufferer is a clear diagnosis:

  • Is the headache of the primary type, such as migraine headache, tension-type headache (TTH), cluster headache or cervicogenic headache (referred from neck structures). 
  • Or is the headache of the secondary type, and potentially related to jaw problems, sinus issues, meningitis, stroke, underlying brain tumour, whiplash / trauma or dental problems. 

Most commonly, tension-type headache and migraine top the list. Many people suffer both from tension-type and migraine and will often describe their "normal everyday" type headache and then their less frequent "migraine attack". Professor James Lance has spoken of migraine as possibly on a "Headache Spectrum" with tension-type at one end and migraine at the other. This concept can be useful in diagnosing those patients whose headaches wax and wane between the two types.

For free downloadable advice from Shirley Rd Chiropractic for the headache sufferer and tips on how to avoid migraine, click here. For the full Choice article click here.

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