Headaches

Reporter: Andrea Burns

For most of us, a couple of tablets is all it takes to get rid of a head ache, but for 18% of Australian women and 7% of men headaches are debilitating, living in excruciating pain, losing work days and family time. Now, evidence that for some sufferers, over the counter treatments could also be part of the cause.

Neurologist, Associate Professor Richard Stark led a study which found the frequent use of common pain medications can actually lead to rebound headaches - a form of drug withdrawal.

"Typically what happens when the level dips down, maybe the day after the headache has been present, another headache comes on as the level goes down and so we get patients in this situation that they take the medication, it helps them to get through the day but next day, headache comes back and they need to take the medication again, so they're in this loop" says Richard.

For patients whose systems are used to having strong headache formulations floating around inside, the withdrawal is really painful.

"The worst of them are the ones that contain codeine. Now codeine is an opioid, which means it's in the same family as morphine and heroin even and the body can become physically habituated to it".

Mum Deanne Paisley says it took her own research and a good GP to make the link between her continuing cycle of headaches and the many pills she was using to treat them.

Diagnosed twelve years ago with migraine, after her first one lasted 10 days. Deanne thought it was a brain tumour.

She says people underestimate how severe headaches can be and has even had medical experts trivialise them.

Beth Egglestone from Headache and Migraine WA says pain levels vary from headache victim to victim. She's urging doctors to adopt a standardised assessment form when discussing headache treatments with patients.

Associate Professor Stark says his study shows doctors can be making greater use of preventative medications for all types of headaches.

Like in Deanne's case, reducing her use of over the counter medications, and taking a daily anti depressant tablet as a preventative.

Associate Professor Stark says if you're taking strong painkillers more than one day a week, it's time to talk to your doctor about better preventative medicine.

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