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Chronic Headaches and Medication Overuse Headache

Medical overuse headaches (MOH) are often caused when people use pain-relief medicine three or more times a week for more than 10 days a month. It's a cycle that doesn't stop itself because the pain returns when the medicine wears off causing the individual to take more. MOH can happen with over-the-counter pain medicine as easily as it can with prescription pain killers.

The Migraine Trust, a UK medical research charity that has been promoting research into migraines since 1965, says that approximately one in eight people suffer from migraines and they can actually make the severity and frequency of their headaches worse with medication use. Medscape Today says medication overuse patients typically have some sort of primary headache disorder, like migraines or cluster headaches, but can increase the frequency of them with too much analgesic consumption. Patients can end up taking pain medication to prevent severe analgesic-withdrawal headaches.

Diagnosing Medication Overuse Headache

Most doctors agree that the type of medication overused in important in diagnosing medication overuse headache. Drugs like triptans, opioids, ergotamines or combination analgesic medications used for 10 or more days a month for more than three months can cause MOH. Simple analgesics used for 15 or more days a month for three months can also cause medication overuse headaches. Factors that indicate this type of headache include headaches that are significantly worse during the time of medication overuse, a headache that lasts for 15 days or more a month.

Symptoms of MOH can be similar to symptoms of migraines sometimes making it difficult to diagnose this type of headache. The severity and location can vary, but those afflicted tend to suffer asthenia (lack of energy or weakness), nausea, impaired concentration and irritability.

Treatment of Possible MOH

It's not uncommon for migraine sufferers to over-medicate themselves, according to the Migraine Trust. The organization points out that this isn't an issue of becoming addicted to the pain killers but an issue of trying to cope with the constant pain. Unfortunately, the end result could be worse headaches or rebound headaches and ultimately more chronic migraine pain.

The treatment of choice is abrupt drug withdrawal. If there is no concern about dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms the patient can do this on their own. If dangerous symptoms are a concern, the withdrawal process will need to be done in a hospital.

The withdrawal procedure is difficult. Migraine attacks will get worse before they improve. Tummy upset, diarrhea, poor sleep and restlessness are common. Symptoms can last a few weeks although they often end within 10 days. Some physicians offer an occipital nerve block to numb the pain for the first week or two.