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Headache Care

Effects of using too much headache medicine

Thursday, Jun 03 2010


When a headache comes on, most of us head to the medicine cabinet or drug store for an over the counter painkiller. But a new report finds a hidden danger associated with some of the most common medications.

Tanya Dirks began suffering from crippling migraine headaches in her early twenties.

“You can’t go to work. You can’t communicate with anyone. You just have to hibernate until it’s over,” she said.

By her mid-20s, Dirks was up to 15 migraines a month.

“I was popping over-the-counter medicine Aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin far more than I needed to. The bottle says take two every four to six hours. I’d wait two hours and think I’ve got to do it again,” she said.

But instead of feeling better Tanya’s headaches just got worse.

“It was just escalating and I couldn’t figure out why,” she said.

It turns out Tanya was suffering from what’s called medication overuse or rebound headaches. They’re caused by overdoing it with the over-the-counter painkillers.

Doctor Orly Avitzur is a neurologist who works with Consumer Reports. He said, “Just because you haven’t purchased it with a prescription, doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe.”

It’s estimated that one in four adults exceed the recommended dosage on non-prescritpion pain medications. Scientists believe the over-use of headache medication alters the way certain pain pathways and receptors work in the brain.

Tanya said, “Don’t underestimate your problem. Don’t think you can solve it yourself. It’s OK to see a doctor and talk about it.”

Tanya now avoids caffeine and alcohol which can trigger migraines. And takes a prescription now instead of all those pills, because when it comes to over-the-counter painkillers. Too much of a good thing is just that.

Reporter: Alison Harmelin, CBS

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