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

Flu Season

Here’s What’s in Your Flu Vaccine: Will It Work This Season?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were sunning ourselves at Hammonasset Beach? Actually, yes it was, but now it’s officially fall and we only care about one thing — the coming flu season. Predicting the severity of a flu season isn’t like predicting which team will win more football games, the...

Heart & aspirin.

Baby Aspirin a Day for Your Heart? Not For Everyone

While about 50 percent of older American adults take aspirin regularly to ward off heart disease, a new study reveals that the practice may actually cause more harm than good for healthy people. Dr. Paul Thompson, chief of cardiology and physician co-director of the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute,...

MitraClip.

Study: MitraClip Device a ‘Game-Changer’ for Heart-Failure Patients

Until now, patients with serious heart failure caused by leaky valves were treated so they felt a little better but the disease relentlessly stunted their life expectancy relentlessly. Recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, however,  gives hope to these patients, according to Dr. Sabet Hashim, chair...

Pharmacist

Report: Up to 75 Percent of Patients Don’t Take Meds as Prescribed

“Devastating” and “staggering (toll)” are adjectives used by officials with the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Medical Director Institute, or MDI, on its recent report showing a grave lack of compliance to medication prescriptions. Noncompliance with medication regimens — when people do not take prescription drugs as prescribed by their...


Kids, Social Media and Body Image

Raising teens to have a positive body image isn’t easy. And it seems to have become more complicated in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, where selfies can be filtered to perfection. Plastic surgeons have even reported that patients are visiting their practices with filtered social media images and asking...


Assessing the Hereditary Risk of Cancer

A new hereditary cancer risk assessment program is helping identify specific cancers in women and men across Connecticut. Hartford HealthCare nurse practitioner Meghan Burgess explains the importance of this program. Q: Why is it so important to have this type of assessment program? A: We’re identifying women at risk for...


What is Precision Medicine in Breast Cancer Treatment?

Precision medicine allows doctors to treat patients based on their individual biology. Dr. Camelia Lawrence is the director of breast surgery at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut and MidState Medical Center. She explains how precision medicine is used in treating breast cancer.  Q: What is precision medicine? A:...