What Are Medication Overuse Headaches?

If you frequently use pain relievers or antimigraine drugs for headaches, you may find that you develop what is known as "medication overuse headaches", explains Harvard Health Publishing

The Cleveland Clinic says that using these pills too often to relieve headaches can potentially cause you to have daily headaches, which could range in severity, feeling like either a tension headache or a severe migraine. In addition, your medications can stop working as well at relieving them.

You might have symptoms like upset stomach, irritability, insomnia, neck pain, depression, anxiety, runny nose, watery eyes, weakness, and problems with concentrating and remembering things, per the Cleveland Clinic. Harvard Health Publishing writes that light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, and constipation are also potential symptoms.

American Family Physician notes that both over-the-counter and prescription headache medications can lead to medication overuse headaches. This includes medications like aspirin and acetaminophen as well as sedatives, tranquilizers, and ergotamine medications.

Treating medication overuse headaches

Treating medication overuse headaches involves stopping the offending medication, says Harvard Health Publishing. They warn that your headaches may get worse at first as you withdraw from your medication.

Harvard Health Publishing notes that some medications may need to be tapered off rather than abruptly stopped in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, body aches, irritability, runny nose, or seizures. This is particularly true for opioids and butalbital-containing drugs.

Talk to your doctor before trying to discontinue drugs, as your doctor can provide guidance on how to do it safely, per the Cleveland Clinic. For some people, it is best to discontinue certain medications in an inpatient environment.

To help you avoid future medication overuse headaches, the Cleveland Clinic says that your doctor will create a plan for you for using preventive medications like beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants, calcium channel blockers, and NSAIDs. The Migraine Trust explains that these medications are taken every day with the goal of either preventing migraine headaches or reducing their frequency and severity. You should also be given instructions for which acute medications you can take when you develop a headache as well as guidelines for how often you can take them in order to avoid medication overuse headaches, according to the Cleveland Clinic.