Medication Withdrawal Headache – is it the barrier to progress?
You’ve made up your mind.
You’re stopping the meds.
What happens now?
Medication Withdrawal Headache is a huge barrier between you and a life in control of pain.
When you stop painkillers, the headache will get worse – this increase in headache is called Medication Overuse Headache – and this makes it really difficult to stop the painkillers.
Stopping over-used medication is one of the best ways to help you control your headaches.
When you stop painkillers and start to get this big increase in headache, you start to think that you or your doctor were wrong.
You make the mistake of thinking that the painkillers were helping after all.
Clinical research tells us the opposite.
If you tough it out and get off the painkillers you can potentially reduce your headache or migraine by………… 75% or more! That is a massive difference.
To get over this barrier of medication withdrawal headache you must know what is ahead, so you can be prepared.
Do you know the road ahead?
You will cope better with stopping painkillers if you know what to expect.
Most people will find the first 2 weeks adjusting to life without painkillers really hard going.
It will not feel good because your brain and body have been used to these drugs for a long time. The brain responds by making you feel sore and uncomfortable – it wants the drugs!
To get the full benefit of withdrawing from excessive medication you should try to remain free from the over-used painkillers for about 8 weeks.
Who’s to blame?
Nobody wants to be taking tablets every day. It is human nature that when you are sore you should do something about it, and taking painkillers is logical.
However, your brain eventually tricks you into wanting these drugs.
So, over time the brain never rests and pain persists. What is more, the pain gets worse as soon as tell your brain ‘Enough – I’m stopping these drugs!’
So you need to know that is is not your fault that you are on all these painkillers.
You must understand this and be prepared.
My Top 4 Medication Withdrawal Headache Facts
Headaches will usually get worse before they get better
The Duration of Medication Withdrawal Headache is about 14 days
The average length of time for a medication withdrawal headache is 9 days, but in some it is as long as 14 days. The first three days are usually the worst.The duration of withdrawal headache is shorter in people who have overused triptan drugs – it’s more like 4 days on average.
Other symptoms will occur apart from increased headaches
Other symptoms occurred alongside worsening headaches, including restlessness, nausea and vomiting and tremor. In one study these lasted up to 3 weeks.
Treatment with Prednisolone, Naproxen or Tizanidine might help
In one study, 100mg of Prednisolone (US-Prednisone) was given for the first 5 days of medication withdrawal to 10 people.
They were compared to 10 people who did not know they were receiving a dummy drug ( a placebo). People on the real prednisolone experienced about 22 hours of severe headache in the first 72 hours of treatment.
This compared to 36 hours out of 72 hours for people given no prednisolone (they were given a placebo or dummy drug).
Everybody in the dummy drug group experienced a withdrawal headache. 2 people in the prednisolone group experienced no withdrawal headache whatsoever.
A larger follow up study of 96 people, published earlier this year, compared 100mg of prednisone with a dummy drug and found that people on prednisone used fewer rescue medications than those who had a dummy drug. Both groups had a similar duration of medication withdrawal headache.
Overall, there is some evidence that using prednisolone may help people through the phase of withdrawal from medication.
Treatment with Tizanidine or NSAIDs may help
In a study on 46 people with medication overuse, Tizanidine was increased by 2mg every 5 days until an maximum dose of 16mg daily at the same time as stopping painkillers. Anti-inflammatories could be taken alongside this if headaches worsened.
The combination of Tizanidine at an average dose of 3.2mg (a very low dose) and anti-inflammatory led to 69% of the 46 people breaking the cycle of daily headaches. This means that Tizanidine (a prescription only drug) can be used to help increase the chance that you get off strong painkillers.
The Guidelines produced by NICE in England recommend Naproxen to reduce the risk of medication withdrawal headache – usually doses of about 500mg twice daily for 2-4 weeks are required.
Seize The Day!
Whatever you do, the battle to stop overusing medications is one worth winning.
Please remember that if you stop overusing medications, there is a 75% chance of significant improvement.
However, about 25% of people will continue to experience severe headaches. In this situation you have a choice to make. Do you learn to cope with the pain or do you pursue advanced treatments from specialists, physical therapists or other health care advisors?
This Headache Friendly Lifestyle course will cover the options that you can put into place yourself.
So, What Should I do if I am taking too many painkillers for headaches or migraines?
The first thing is to ACCEPT you have a problem.
Then DECIDE to take action.
Take Control of your Headaches – there’s a book to help you called ‘The Billionaires Book of Headaches‘.
Talk to your own doctor or pharmacist about how to stop overusing painkillers and whether you need to take any special precautions.
Stop The Painkillers!
Be prepared to get worse before you get better, but remember……
……the odds are in your favour to get a big improvement.
If you do not improve than you might want to see what else you can do to help your headaches.
If stopping painkillers has not helped you may need professional support and advice.
I offer private appointments if you want more assistance (restrictions and conditions apply).
References on Medication Withdrawal Headache
TR Smith. Tizanidine and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs for Detoxification from Analgesic Rebound Headache. Headache 2002;42:175-77.
K Rabe et al. Prednisone for the treatment of withdrawal headache in patients with medication overuse headache: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Cephalalgia 2013;33:202-7.
L Pageler et al. Prednisone vs. placebo in withdrawal therapy following medication overuse headache. Cephalalgia 2008;28:152-6.