Analgesics may cause headache, rather than cure it

In people with a family history of headache indiscriminate use of these drugs can be even worse, warn doctors. Almost 1 million people in Britain suffer intense headaches "completely avoidable," caused by excessive intake of analgesics, inform doctors of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice, its acronym in English).

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According to the guidelines of the organization, many people find themselves in a state of dependence, after giving in to a "vicious cycle" of pain relief, which ends up causing even more headaches.

"People who take regular medication, such as aspirin, paracetamol and triptan may be causing more pain than relief to themselves," says a document prepared by the panel.

"While pharmacy treatments are effective to relieve occasional headaches, it is believed that 1 in 50 people suffer pain caused by over-medication, and the incidence is five times higher among women."

There is no specific data in Britain on the incidence of the problem, but studies in other countries suggest that between 1% and 2% of the population is affected by headaches.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cites statistics that show that in some groups surveyed, the incidence reaches 5% of the population.

For Martin Underwood, of Warwick Medical School, who led the research of Nice "(the intake of analgesics) may end up in a vicious cycle in which the headache gets worse, then more painkillers are taken, then the head pain gets worse and worse and worse. And it's something so easy to prevent."

The new guidelines for doctors in England and Wales are: alerting patients to immediately halt the use of painkillers. However, this can lead to about a month of agony, until eventually the symptoms improve.

Specialists say although other options should be considered for prophylactic and preventative treatments - in some cases, for example, acupunctureit is recommended .


The way analgesics act in the brain is not fully understood by doctors. It is believed that the majority of affected people have begun to have ordinary daily headaches or migraine headaches; the problem was worsened as these people resorted to self-medication frequently.

Manjit Matharu, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said that, in general, self-medication becomes a serious problem when patients begin to ingest painkillers for ten to 15 days every month.

Painkiller: it can worsen the headache, warns British research

"This is a big problem for the population. The number of people with excessive use of medicine for headache already is one in 50. This represents approximately 1 million people who have headaches almost daily due to analgesics," said Matharu.

People with a family history of tension headaches or migraine may also have a genetic vulnerability to excess medication for headache. They may be more susceptible to anlagésicos, even if they are not specific for headache.

More accurate diagnosis

The Nice suggests that doctors recommend acupuncture for patients susceptible to migraines and tension headaches.

"We expect that this will lead more people to seek acupuncture. Given that there is evidence that the practice is effective for prevention of migraines and tension headaches, this is something positive," says Martin Underwood.

The head of the Migraine Foundation of Great Britain, Wendy Thomas, said that guidelines should help the work of doctors.

"The measures will contribute to a more accurate diagnosis, appropriate recommendations and evidence-based information for those with disturbing headaches.  Tgey will raise awareness about the excesses of self-medication, which can be a serious problem for those with severe headaches."

Fayyaz Ahmed, director of the British Association for the Study of Migraine, the guidelines also sees with good eyes.

"The headache is the most common disease, and one in seven people in Britain suffer from migraine. The problem puts a huge burden on the resources of the health system and the economy in general," he says.

In Brazil, 2009 studies indicate the incidence of migraine in about 15% of the population.

Translated from the Portuguese version by:

Lisa Karpova


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey