Why Overusing Pain Medication Can Make Your Headaches Worse

Print icon

Headaches affect millions, and if you suffer from them, you may not realize that the medication you take could be making it worse. Dr. Brian Grosberg is the medical director of the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center:

Q: How do you know if you’re having a reaction to your medication, and that’s causing your headache? 

A: When somebody sees us at the Headache Center, once we make a diagnosis, and if, in that case, it’s migraine, if people are overusing acute pain medications, not because they want to but because they’re suffering from headache so frequently, that can sometimes create a vicious cycle, and actually create more frequent headaches.

Q: What is actually going on in the brain chemistry? What’s happening there, causing those headaches?

A: The exact understanding of that mechanism isn’t known, but we know that people who are using acute pain medications two or more days per week in general on a regular basis over an extended period of time, that’s what can actually create more frequent headaches. And there are certain medications that may be more likely to do it. Like? Opiates or narcotics, and medications that contain barbiturates. Medications that people know of like fioricet or fiorinal, these are classes of medications that are more likely to create more frequent headaches.

Q: How do you break that cycle?

A: That’s where somebody would see us at the Headache Center, and we would talk about a multidisciplinary approach, using a non-medication and a medication approach together to help get them off those medications that they’re overusing. And are there other medications that don’t have that effect? There are medications that don’t have that effect, but usually you’re employing it if they’re having frequent headaches enough with something to help prevent headaches as well. Is this something that you see quite a bit of, or is it rare? Actually, we see it quite commonly in our Headache Centers.

Looking for help with your headaches? Contact the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center at 860.696.2925. 


What's New


Why Athletes are More at Risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Markelle Fultz makes a living – and earned status as 2017’s top NBA draft pick – by keeping his arms aloft, guarding his team’s basket from the jumpshots of opposing players. Now, that very movement has sidelined him for at least a few months and thrust the medical condition called...

Lung Cancer

What to Expect From Lung Cancer Treatment

There have been rapid developments in the treatment of lung cancer in the last 10 years. Fortunately, because of earlier detection and improved therapies for patients with lung cancer, the outcomes for patients have improved significantly in recent years. The therapies used for treatment of lung cancer — chemotherapy, radiation,...

Colorectal Cancer

How to Rebuild Your Life After Colorectal Cancer

By Dr. Gerard Fumo Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if precancerous growths are removed during a colonoscopy.  In part, because of the advances in screening, detecting and removal of early cancers, we have seen a steady decline in the overall incidence of...


Suboxone Treatment Can Begin in the Emergency Room

On a recent Saturday, a patient was brought into The Hospital of Central Connecticut Emergency Department overdosing on opioids; doctors diagnosed him with Opioid Use Disorder and asked if he wanted to start recovery. When he agreed, they gave him a dose of Suboxone, a medication that eases what can...

Nutrition and Cancer

How an Oncology Nutritionist Can Help Your Body Fight Cancer

Nutrition is an essential part of health and shouldn’t be neglected when going through cancer treatment. MaryBeth Dahlstrom-Green, an oncology nutritionist with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital, said the often rigorous treatment required to fight cancer can leave patients physically and emotionally depleted. That’s where she comes...


Achy Ankle? Here’s What You Can Do About It!

We’re on our ankles all the time. Sometimes that makes our joints achy, particularly our feet and ankles. Some basics about on foot and ankle pain from Dr. Adam Ferguson from the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute at MidState Medical Center. Q: Why does someone have ankle pain? A: When we talk...


Tallwood Men’s Health Center Opens in Farmington

The statistics say it all: Men are 1.4 times as likely as women to die from almost every chronic medical condition, and on average live five years less than women; according to the National Center for Health Statistics. A new program at Hartford HealthCare has been designed to change that: the Tallwood...