When many people have migraines, the first thing they do is go to the doctor to be prescribed a medication or reach for their bottle of ibuprofen. These medications help people all the time relieve the symptoms associated with migraines, but could this be doing more harm than good in the long run? A recent research article published by Diener et al. states that frequent or regular use of analgesics and anti-migraine drugs can make headaches more frequent and actually induce the transformation of episodic headaches into chronic headaches.
The article defines chronic headache due to medication overuse as a headache that is present 15 days/month for at least 3 months in a patient who previously has suffered from primary headaches and who takes either analgesics on at least 15 days per month or anti-migraine drugs, opioids or combines analgesics for 10 days per month. Analgesics include paracetamol (acetaminophen), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, aleve, etc.), and opioids (morphine and oxycodone). Anti-migraine drugs that were included in this article were Ergotamine and Triptan.
According to the study, 25% to 50% of all patients who suffer from chronic headaches overuse medications. In the United States, the main overuse was in opioids and barbiturates (which is not even recommended in Germany for the acute treatment of headaches). Women are four times more likely to suffer from medication overuse headache than men and is most prevalent in the fifth decade of life. In children, the prevalence of headache due to medication overuse is between 0.3% and 1%. Chronification of symptoms is faster when overusing triptans and opioids compared to single analgesics and caffeine-containing combination analgesics.
Even more alarming is the recommended treatment plan that is suggested for patients suffering from drug overuse headaches. In the article, it is suggested to first educate the patient about the condition and try to decrease the number of days taking the medication. If this does not work, the medication is switched to another prescription and if this still fails, a “drug holiday” is suggested.
Rather than continuing to mask the symptoms of migraines with medications that put you at risk for more symptoms, why not try a more natural approach to your care? At Georgia Chiropractic Neurology Center, our doctors are trained not to mask your symptoms, but to provide treatments that address the root cause of your symptoms, without the use of drugs or surgery.
Reference: Diener H-C, Holle D, Dresler T, Gaul C. Chronic Headache Due to Overuse of Analgesics and Anti-Migraine Agents. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2018;115(22):365-370. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2018.0365.