Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from ‘disabling’ headaches caused by overuse of painkillers, experts warn.
As many as one in 50 of the population regularly has headaches triggered by the very drugs meant to be numbing their pain.
The risk is highest for those who take aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol at least every other day to treat either a headache or another condition such as joint pain.
The health watchdog NICE says that taking too many of these pills can actually make the brain more sensitive to pain, leaving the sufferer prone to further headaches.
Often they get into a ‘vicious cycle’ whereby their headaches get worse, they take more drugs and the pain becomes even more debilitating. As many as 10million Britons suffer from severe headaches but NICE is concerned that many doctors are not properly diagnosing the type of pain or offering the best treatment.
Many could be better off taking alternative drugs called triptans, inhaling oxygen or even having acupuncture, the watchdog says.
Professor Martin Underwood, a GP and Warwick Medical School researcher who helped draw up the guidelines, said: ‘We have effective treatments for common headache types.’However, taking these medicines for more than ten or 15 days a month can cause medication overuse headache, which is a disabling and preventable disorder.‘Patients with 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.’