What is medication overuse headache?

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

Did you know that if you suffer from regular headaches you can find yourself in a vicious cycle? This is because treating headaches with medicines on every occasion can lead to a condition known as medication overuse headache.

About 1 in 50 adults are thought to suffer from medication overuse headache.

Overuse of migraine medicines called ‘triptans’ can cause medication overuse headache. However, this type of headache is much more likely to develop in people who take simple pain relievers — such as aspirin or paracetamol — regularly. People who consume paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen for headache on 15 or more days a month for 3 months, may develop medication overuse headache. People who use pain relievers to treat headaches are more likely to develop an overuse headache than those using pain relievers for other conditions like arthritis.

When pain relievers are combined with either codeine or caffeine, the risk of medication overuse headache increases. If you experience regular — almost daily — headaches, that no longer respond to your usual pain relievers, talk to your doctor about the possibility of medication overuse headache. He or she may ask you to complete a headache diary to help with the diagnosis.

Read more about medication overuse headache and other headaches, including migraine, tension headache and their treatments in our knowledge hubs.