3 April 2009
Overuse of analgesics (pain relievers) by people with chronic (ongoing) tension-type headaches is rife, research shows (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2009, online 11 March).
A Norwegian study found almost half (44 per cent) of a random sample of people experiencing headaches (for at least 15 days per month over a 3-month period) overused medication when analysed with the Severity of Dependence Scale (SDS), a 5-question screening tool.
|Severity of Dependence Scale questionnaire|
The most commonly over-used medications were pain relievers, with 65 per cent using simple analgesics (e.g. paracetamol) and another 27 per cent using combination analgesics (medicine containing 2 or more pain relievers). Smaller groups of people were using triptans or ergotamine (prescription-only migraine medicines) or opioids (e.g. codeine).
Clinical Associate Professor Richard Stark, a neurologist with the department of medicine at Monash University, said he suspected medication overuse by people with headaches in Australia was common and possibly even higher than in the Norwegian study.
The study authors said the findings were concerning given the prevalence of these headaches (3 to 4 per cent of the general population) and the fact that the medication use was often worsening the headache symptoms.
‘Not even simple analgesics are ‘safe drugs’ in the management of headaches,’ they said. ‘In fact, all headache medication requires awareness of the possibility of developing medication overuse.’
Professor Stark said the SDS looked to be an effective tool to identify people who were overusing medication. However, treatment was often difficult as many patients lacked motivation for detoxification and often relapsed.
Last Reviewed: 03 April 2009