Stay off the drugs: too many can cause you a headache

The press last week gave a good level of coverage on how headache- and painkiller-related medication can cause headaches. This was good timing as there was also an article in the Guardian on how we, the public, and GP’s fall victim to marketing and false claims made by drug companies about the efficacy of prescription and over-the-counter medication. This worrying article by Ben Goldacre on the Guardian website 21/9/12 The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal looked at how we are mislead by drug companies and subsequently how much money the NHS is paying the drug companies.

Coverage in the press last week about headaches highlighted the number of people that suffer from headaches because they are taking too many painkillers. It is reckoned that about a million people fall into this category. Imagine how much money this group is paying out either directly for over-the-counter medication or via the NHS. Indeed, this cost not includes that of medication, but also the cost in time taken when seen by medical practitioners and having various expensive medical tests.

Over-the-counter headache medication includes the familiar paracetamol, codeine and ibuprofen. If any of these medications are taken for more than 15 days in a month for three months or more, it is then considered chronic use and, paradoxically, the medication can (potentially) be the cause of the ongoing headaches.

There is sadly a dependence on medication in society; or, rather it is considered appropriate to reach for the medicine bottle to sort out even the most common types of headaches, which of course in numerous cases doesn’t look at the real problem which is the continued exposure to the cause of the headaches. This causative factor needs to be identified as soon as possible, and the only way to do this is with a good psychosocial history and comprehensive examination as opposed to the traditional medical history.

This consultation needs to go further than just ‘where does it hurt’ followed by ‘take this for ten days and then come back and see me’, as the nature of headaches can be multi-factorial and lifestyle-related, so a good psychosocial history needs to be taken and this takes a good deal more time than five or six minutes!

The information gleamed from a good psychosocial history works very well with the Angel Wellbeing Clinic’s “the patients comes first” philosophy and we will do whatever we can to get to the cause of the problem. We are aware that the four common forms of headache make up 95% of all headaches:

Tension headache: pressing or tightening, non-pulsating pain of mild to moderate in intensity that is not affected by routine activities of daily living.

Migraine headache: pulsating pain, that is throbbing or banging in young people aged between 12 and 17, and that is moderate to severe in pain intensity and can be aggravated by routine activities.

Cluster headache: causes bouts of up to 8 headaches per day, with variable pain that is of severe or very severe intensity.

Painkiller overuse headache: when certain drugs are taken up to 15 days per month for three months or more.

Frequent tension-type headaches or migraines can get themselves into a vicious cycle, where their headaches are getting increasingly worse, so they take more medication which makes their pain even worse as they take more medication.

Our modern lifestyles are not conducive to good health, whereby heart disease, diabetes and obesity are all on the increase and these provide a pretty stark indicator about how our health is slipping. Imagine where it will be in 10 years time and how much it will cost the NHS and our country. It is clear the pills GP’s are prescribing at the moment don’t work!

For nearly ten years, I suffered from pain in my left shoulder and headaches. After four treatments, the headaches were gone. During the course of my treatment, I was not treated as one of the patients in Brian’s clinic, but someone who wants to get better and he is there to help. But he did not stop there, every treatment he continuously encouraged me to change my lifestyle and attitudes towards work and way of life – not overnight of course!

For nearly ten years, I suffered from pain in my left shoulder and headaches. After four treatments, the headaches were gone. During the course of my treatment, I was not treated as one of the patients in Brian’s clinic, but someone who wants to get better and he is there to help. But he did not stop there, every treatment he continuously encouraged me to change my lifestyle and attitudes towards work and way of life – not overnight of course!

With the services I received i.e the receptionist ringing to remind my appointment, early morning appointments a real bonus – makes me feel good at work after a treatment! Where else can one find these extras? Highly recommended.

JL, Islington


At the Angel Wellbeing Clinic we are more than happy to refer headache patients back to their GP so they can have further evaluation but we feel that our approach is very relevant to lifestyle.

If we feel that you have a medication-induced headache we will refer you back to your GP so that your medication can be reassessed. If you have to come off your medication it may make the headaches worse in the short term but hopefully once we start to address your problems the headaches will start to improve.

Mechanical causes of headache make up the largest single type of headache the clinic sees and these can be addressed by the chiropractor, osteopath or by our physiotherapist or the acupuncturist.

If you are sitting at a computer all day this seems like the most logical place to start looking at and at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic we start with the obvious first. These tension related headaches can be caused by biomechanical issues due to posture and this can result in joint pain referred from the vertebrae in the neck or the pain can be referred from tight muscles in the shoulder and neck area. Medication seems an unnecessary risk if this is the cause!

If you are sitting at a computer all day this seems like the most logical place to start looking at and at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic we start with the obvious first. These tension related headaches can be caused by biomechanical issues due to posture and this can result in joint pain referred from the vertebrae in the neck or the pain can be referred from tight muscles in the shoulder and neck area. Medication seems an unnecessary risk if this is the cause!

Most patients suffering from regular headaches require ergonomic advice. The Angel Wellbeing Clinic in London can help with that too and the practitioners can make sure that when you are sitting at your desk you are doing it in the best way possible. This may involve the recommendation of ergonomic chairs or accessories in addition to the prescription of rehabilitation exercises to allow the back to function correctly throughout the day.

If you need rehabilitation to improve how your neck works we can help with that as well. Jo Knock our physiotherapist is producing a range of rehabilitation videos to aid patient recovery. (See the latest one here)

Patients that have recurrent mechanically induced headaches are more prone to developing the painkiller overuse headaches as they are exposed to the cause of their problem everyday and are not equipped to identify ordeal with this cause.

It would also appear that there is a failure in GP’s knowledge if the bigger picture isn’t looked at. This leads to a vicious cycle as the headache sufferer starts to self-medicate with painkillers which although works initially the headaches can get worse, eventually the medication doesn’t work and the sufferer increases the dosage and eventually they are trapped in the vicious cycle with the medication contributing to their headache.

The approach of the Angel Wellbeing Clinic is to look at this ‘bigger picture’. We keep the GP informed and we utilise the best possible drug free approach whether it is acupuncture, physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic or CBT therapy.

If you wish to make an appointment with one of our practitioners or if you require a FREE ASSESSMENT click below. We are more than happy to help and more than happy to get you back to good health again.



By Brian on 28th Sep 2012   Share |


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