Medication overuse headaches

Medication overuse (rebound) headache (MOH) has been the subject of many studies and reports.  Another review of this subject appeared in the latest issue of journal Pain by Italian neurologists. This review addressed possible causes, predisposing factors, and possible treatments. The list of possible drugs which can lead to overuse headaches included in this article includes every possible headache medicine. However, the authors do not mention that for some drugs there is more scientific evidence than for other. For example, only caffeine and opioid (narcotic) analgesics have been proven to cause MOH, while drugs such as aspirin may actually prevent the development of MOH. There is only anecdotal (case reports) evidence for triptans (sumatriptan, or Imitrex, rizatriptan, or Maxalt, and other). The authors suggest that both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to patient’s vulnerability to substance overuse, dependence, and withdrawal in MOH. They also think that psychological comorbidities such as depression, anxiety and poor pain coping abilities may contribute to chronification of headaches.
The authors report on different detox strategies, including the need for hospital admission for patients taking large doses of narcotics or barbiturates (such as butalbital, found in Fioricet, Fiorinal, Esgic). However, almost all patients seen at the New York Headache Center are successfully withdrawn on an out-patient basis. Many patients fear worsening of pain from medication withdrawal, but several treatments can make the process less painful. Botox injections, intravenous infusions of magnesium, topiramate (Topamax), gabapentin (Neurontin) and a short course of steroids are some of the most commonly used strategies. Elimination of dietary caffeine, regular aerobic exercise, biofeedback, and acupuncture are also very useful adjunctive therapies.

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