Should You Take Medicine For Your Headache?


| 4 Comments

Lately, I have been getting a decent amount of headaches. I wondered why is this happening and why does something so painful and annoying seem to be so common?  Once I started looking into it, I couldn't believe how many people not only get headaches, but also suffer from constant migraines.  The Migraine Research Foundation stated that over 10% of our population suffers from migraines.  They continued with saying around fourteen million people experience headaches on almost a daily basis.  Wow, think about how rich companies must be that sell pain-relievers for headaches.  Then I wondered, is that what we should be turning to?

 

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What Causes Headaches?

For the majority of headaches, the pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves.  During a headache, certain nerves of blood vessels and muscles activate and send pain signals to the brain.  Although, no one is entirely sure why the signals are activated in the first place.

Under what circumstances are they triggered though?  Sadly, it seems like everything.  Here's a summarized list of things that can trigger a headache:

A cold, a "blow" to the head, stress, alcohol us, malnutrition, dehydration, changes in sleep patterns, excessive medication use, depression, eyestrain, neck/back strain, secondhand smoke, strong odors from chemicals, noise, lighting, weather changes, lack of exercise and sometimes too much.

The list is basically endless, but what about for those people who seem to almost be getting them?  Just take an Advil and it'll get better, right?  Wrong.  In fact, a study showed prolonged use of "headache" relieving pills have caused a reverse effect on the users.

Rebound Headaches

According to MD George Krucik, when people get headaches and constantly take medicine for them it can result in "medication-overuse headache (MOH)", more commonly known as rebound headaches.  There are two main theories as to why this can happen.  The first states that it "diminishes the body's own defense against headaches" (nbneuro.com).  This takes place because it "disrupts the brain's production of natural analgesics known as endorphins."  This basically means that our body no longer produces our natural painkillers and starts depending on the artificial ones we take.  The second theory directly relates to the use of caffeine.  When people take caffeine it "constricts blood vessels" which can relieve pain for a little bit.  Once the caffeine wears off the blood vessels dilate, which they believe could be the reason the headache comes back. 

Although these two theories sound plausible, researches still don't know what specifically causes these rebound headaches, but from observational studies they have found that after prolonged use of pain relieving medicines, the medicine will stop being helpful and be more harmful.   Here's a list of the medicines that have been found to cause rebound headaches.

  1. Pain relievers (ex: aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol)
  2. Ergots (a combination of pain relievers and caffeine)
  3.  "Combination analgesics" (These include the top two categories along with acetaminophen (found in Tylenol too)
  4. Opioid medications (prescription medicine, ex: codeine)

So, if you find out that this is the reason you're getting headaches or migraines, it is a hard habit to break.  The best way to stop these headaches is to stop taking the pain relievers.  At first, people will have withdrawal symptoms and possibly feel worse until their body adapts and the headaches go away all together.  On healthline.com it stated that a study found that 67% of people reduced their headaches after not taking pain relievers for two months.  So, do you think you should still be taking medicine for your headaches?

 

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References:

http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/guide/migraines-headaches-basics?page=2 

http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine.html 

http://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/medications-causing-headaches?toptoctest=expand

http://www.nbneuro.com/reboundheadache.shtml

4 Comments

Alyssa,
Not only is this blog very well written...it is extremely informative. From 7th-10th grade I suffered from really bad headaches. My doctors always told me that it could be most of the causes you listed above. I never really ate breakfast and she said that may cause it as wel, AKA malnutrition. However, in your article you could've added a couple more headache treatments! I feel as though there are lots of people who don't believe in medicine or don't want to rely on medicine. If people like that too suffer from headaches they may consider massages. This website, http://saveyourself.ca/articles/perfect-spots/spot-01-suboccipitals.php tells you all the best places to have massaged in order to reduce tension head aches. A lot of times, similar to what you mentioned, head aches are due to swelling. If our neck is extremely tense and stiff this may cause us head aches, the pressure close to the brain causes pressure, almost like swelling. Directly undernead the skull is one of the best locations for a massage, since according to the article it has "deeply relaxing and satisfying sensations, and a dramatic therapeutic relevance to one of the most common of all human pains, the common tension headache." I know from experience because I have a special doctor for my back and neck. At the end of every appointment she masssaged that back skull muscle. She losens it up and can eventually crack it, which releases so much tension it's amazing. Sometimes if I have a head ache, I crack my neck myslef and the pain seems to reduce.

Another headache technique, aside form pills, could be acupuncture. Web MD states that it helps migraines and headaches: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/news/20120112/acupuncture-may-be-effective-for-migraines Several people have had acupuncture done and reported that within a few days/weeks they receieved increasingly less headaches or migraines.

With this being said, don't you think people should look into headache alternatives?

I'll definitely look into those things for my headaches! And I'm probably going to write a second blog now about some different ways people can cope with their headaches. It took me awhile to decide which way to go with this post too because there's so many different things to talk about with respect to headaches. I'll be sure to have a follow up blog with the different types of headaches and what's been researched the best advice to treat them! Thanks for the tips!

Wow! I was surprised to read this. I don't really have a problem with getting headaches, but my first instinct would be to take Advil if I got one. That's crazy how it actually could end up making it worse. It shocks me to think that taking Ibuprofen, etc for headaches is such a widely accepted belief, yet it isn't necessarily true.
This reminds me of the article we read for the second class test about athletes and Advil. I found an article online kind of like the one on the test that discusses how Advil increased stress for runners, and it actually slowed the healing process of the body.
http://www.norcalsc.com/why-it’s-a-bad-idea-to-take-advil
I am really interested in this topic now because I use Advil, etc whenever I have pain!

This came as a shock for me to read because every time I have a headache I just take some Tylenol and it usually goes away rather quickly. However, I have never had a problem with getting rebound headaches and I use pain killers all the time for my headaches. I have also heard that the more you use pain killers the more likely you are to have to slightly increase the amount you take for them to have any effect. I have never had to increase a dosage for them to work though so I am not sure how valid this is.

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