It is often the instinctive recourse of those who maybe suffering from say a headache or anybody pain; popping a painkiller and letting the pill take care of the rest. Indeed pain killers form the backbone of any medicine cabinet and while not miracle drugs they are certainly tried and tested ways to cure some of the most fundamental ailments that affect the body. But a new study suggests that though painkillers are effective the maxim of ‘too much of a good thing’ certainly applies to painkillers and indeed they can be counterproductive.
The new research, conducted by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has found that ‘millions’ of people are in a vicious cycle of painkiller induced headaches, that according to the researchers are entirely “preventable”. The research shows that in certain cases, patients who use painkillers to treat headaches actually exacerbate their headaches with the painkillers. According to research previously done in this regard, around 1-2 per cent people suffer from this, while the World Health Organization (WHO) maintained that 5 per cent people worldwide are affected.
The headaches, dubbed, "Medication overuse headaches” are, according to the researchers, potentially cyclical in that they are taken for headaches, induce headaches and then unknowingly, headache sufferers take more painkillers, in turn causing more headaches. Prof Martin Underwood of Warwick Medical School, who led the study, explained, "This can end up getting into a vicious cycle where your headache gets worse, so you take more painkillers, so your headache gets worse and this just becomes worse and worse and worse. It is such an easy thing to prevent."
How or why the painkillers have such an affect is not known but it is supposed that the problem arose when headache sufferers treated their mild headaches with painkillers, slowly becoming worse. Researchers have said that the ‘tipping point’ for this was around 10-15 days of pain killer use a month that led to medication overuse headaches. The researchers added that those who had a genetic predisposition to tension induced headaches were more likely to develop medication overuse headaches and could be susceptible to headaches even when using painkillers for non-headache pain relief.
Consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Manjit Matharu comments, "This is a huge problem in the population. The figures in terms of the number of people who have medication overuse headache are one in 50, so that is approximately a million people who have headaches on a daily or near daily basis because they're using painkillers."