Sadly, it’s true: your headache remedy may be causing you more headaches.
Rebound headaches – also known as medication overuse headaches – occur when a person overuses certain medications used to treat headaches.
Overuse is defined as using a painkiller to treat a headache more than two or three times a week for three or more months. A 1999 study found that approximately 9% of women in the general population suffer from daily headaches and just under a third of these were overusing painkillers.
Characteristics of a rebound headache include:
- Headaches that occur more than 15 days in a month
- Are worse during periods when you are overusing painkillers
- Most common in people in their 30s and 40s and occur more often in women than men
- Those that already suffer from headache conditions are more susceptible
Culprits include common painkillers – like aspirin, acetaminophen, and to a lesser degree ibuprofen and naproxen – as well as many prescription medications such as opioids or those containing codeine.
Triptans, drugs commonly used to treat migraines, can also cause rebound headaches. In fact, triptans, such as Imitrex and Zomig, account for 42% of migraine treatment, and can cause rebound headaches when taken more than 10 days per month.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, rebound headaches can also be caused by overuse of caffeine present in medication or from your daily soda or coffee habit. Caffeine use of over 200mg per day might increase your risk. (For perspective, one cup of coffee contains around 95mg).
Why does this happen?
Your body gets used to a certain amount of medication when you use your treatment regularly. When the dose wears off, you suffer from symptoms of withdrawal – such as headaches. Most of us combat this headache with another dose of painkiller which just makes the situation worse in the long run. Long term use of medications also depletes the body of vitamins and minerals and can damage the liver and lining of the GI tract. NSAIDs reduce the production of cytokines, which results in a reduction of serotonin receptors in the brain, which may also play a role.
So What’s a Headache Sufferer to do?
If you suffer from rebound headaches, you aren’t alone. In fact, rebound headaches are the third most common cause of headaches behind migraines and tension-type headaches.
The good news: rebound headaches are treatable. The bad news: it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
Discontinuing the overused medication is the only way to break the rebound headache cycle.
Unfortunately, this usually causes headaches to get worse initially. You may also suffer from other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, insomnia, or restlessness.
Doesn’t sound like good news? Don’t worry – the headaches eventually will get better. Most sufferers see headaches return to their normal patterns within two months of stopping medication use. So if you are concerned that you may be experiencing rebound headaches it is worth talking to your doctor about getting out of the cycle before it gets worse.
How do You Decrease Your Risk of Rebound Headaches?
You can mitigate your risk for rebound headaches by avoiding the use of painkillers or triptans more than two times a week. Of course, this is easier said than done if your headaches are severe. I’ve been there. In the middle of a migraine is not the time to tackle this problem. You have to step back and take a bigger picture view of what is going on in your body to cause these migraines (this is what we do in phase 2 of the Migraine Freedom Plan: DIVE)
You could try working with your doctor to switch to another type of medication. However, this will involve some trial and error that may worsen symptoms.
Fortunately, all is not lost! There are many natural remedies, holistic treatments, and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate headache symptoms. These include:
- Certain herbs, vitamins, and minerals
- Ice or Heat
- Techniques to properly manage stress
- Healthy sleep and eating habits
- Identification of possible dietary triggers
Natural remedies can be the perfect solution to having fewer headaches and reducing the risk of developing rebound headaches. In truly chronic cases, your doctor may have prescribed a preventative medication and you’ll need to be sure to consult them before changing your use of these to avoid potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
If you feel like you’ve exhausted all the typical migraine treatments and want to give natural remedies a try, download my e-book, “10 Natural Ways to Beat a Migraine Before it Starts”.
Are you a headache sufferer? We’d love to know what remedies you’re using to treat your headaches, and if you think they might be rebounding! Please share your wisdom below… we’re all listening 🙂