The BBC is reporting that up to a million people in the UK have “completely preventable” severe headaches caused by taking too many painkillers, doctors have said.
The warning came as part of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) first guidelines for treating headaches.
“Medication overuse headaches” feel the same as other common headaches or migraines.
There is no definitive UK data on the incidence of the condition, but studies in other countries suggest 1-2% of people are affected, while the World Health Organization says
While painkillers would be many people’s instant response, they could be making sufferers feel even worse.
Prof Martin Underwood, from Warwick Medical School, who led the NICE panel, said: “This can end up getting into a vicious cycle where your headache gets worse, so you take more painkillers, so your headache gets worse and this just becomes worse and worse and worse.
“It is such an easy thing to prevent.”
Exactly how painkillers have this effect on the brain is unknown.
Most of the people affected are thought to have started with either everyday, tension-type headaches or migraines. The headaches then became worse as they treated themselves at home.
Main types of headache
- Tension – the common “everyday” headache most people will experience at some point in their lives. In some cases people have tension headaches on most days of the month.
- Migraine – severe headache that can last for several days. It gets worse with activity and often comes with nausea as well as sensitivity to light and sound.
- Cluster – extremely severe pain around the eye and side of the face, also includes swelling and a red watery eye. Some people report eight attacks a day, which can last up to three hours.
- Medication overuse – feels like a tension headache or a migraine, but is due to taking too many painkillers.
However, there are more than 200 types of headache.
Manjit Matharu, a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said there was a tipping point at 10 to 15 days of using pain relief each month when the drugs became the issue.
He said: “This is a huge problem in the population. The figures in terms of the number of people who have medication overuse headache are one in 50, so that is approximately a million people who have headaches on a daily or near daily basis because they’re using painkillers.”
The new guidelines for doctors in England and Wales advise telling sufferers to immediately stop taking all pain relief. However, this will lead to about a month of agony as patients contend with regular headaches without pain relief, until symptoms eventually improve.
The panel said other options for controlling any underlying headaches, such as preventative treatments, could be considered.
Drug Free Headache Relief
The best solution for headaches of any type is to get the cause of the problem. For many people headaches begin after a head or neck trauma, such as a car crash, fall or other accident. Traumas like these can cause misalignments in the upper neck. Misalignments in the upper neck have been shown to lead to changes in blood and cerebrospinal fluid flow from the brain to the body and the body to the brain. These changes in fluid exchange in the brain have been linked to many conditions, including migraine headaches , and sleep problems.
The best way to correct a misalignment in the upper neck is by utilizing the Atlas Orthogonal Adjusting Instrument. Atlas orthogonal doctors doctors perform a postural examination in order to determine body imbalance and then take precise 3 dimensional upper neck x-rays in order to mathematically calculate how the misalignment needs to be corrected. After the initial correction, follow-up 3 dimensional x-rays are taken in order to ensure that the misalignment is being corrected properly.
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