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Rebound Headaches

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What Drugs Cause Rebound Headaches?

Many commonly used pain relievers, when taken in large enough amounts, can cause rebound headaches. Drugs once thought of as "safe" are turning up as the likeliest culprits. These include:

  • Aspirin
  • Sinus relief medications
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as Aleve)
  • Sedatives for sleep
  • Codeine and prescription narcotics
  • Over-the-counter combination headache remedies containing caffeine (such as Anacin, Excedrin, Bayer Select)
  • Ergotamine preparations (such as Cafergot, Migergot, Ergomar, Bellergal-S, Bel-Phen-Ergot S, Phenerbel-S, Ercaf, Wigraine, and Cafatine PB)
  • Butalbital combination pain relievers (Goody's Headache Powder, Supac, fiorinal, fioricet)

While small amounts of these drugs per week may be safe (and effective) -- at some point, continued use can lead to the development of low grade headaches that just will not go away.

Taking larger or more frequent doses of the offending medication is not recommended. This not only exposes the person to a higher level of the medication's harmful ingredients, but it can make the headache worse and continue indefinitely.

What Is the Treatment for Rebound Headaches?

Usually, discontinuing the medication or gradually reducing the medication dose will lead to more easily controlled headaches. You will probably be asked to record your headache symptoms, noting the frequency and duration of headaches.

Some people may need to be "detoxified" under more carefully monitored medical conditions. People taking large doses of sedative hypnotics, sedative-containing combination headache pills, or narcotics such as codeine or oxycodone may need to be admitted to the hospital so they can be detoxified and recover under supervision.

Unfortunately, for many chronic daily headache sufferers, detoxification for the first several weeks leads to increasing headaches. Supervision and treatment by a headache specialist are therefore very important.

Eventually, the headaches disappear and resume their previous intermittent nature.

Can Rebound Headaches Be Prevented?

Yes. You can prevent rebound headaches by using pain relievers on a limited basis, only when necessary. Do not use them more than once or twice a week, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.

Also, avoid caffeine-containing products while taking pain relievers, especially medication that already contains caffeine.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on April 19, 2012
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