Headaches- how painkillers can worsen them

Headaches- how painkillers can worsen them

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Could over-use of painkillers be making your headaches worse?

There are certain things that your GP should be looking for if you’re suffering from regular headaches. Things that may indicate something to worry about include:

  • Sudden onset
  • Accompanying fever
  • Change in the nature or timing of the headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Accompanying neurological symptoms, for example weakness or loss of coordination
  • Accompanying localised scalp tenderness
Learn how to get an online medical certificate

If your GP isn’t sure what the nature of your headache is, they may want to get a scan of your brain.

If you’re not worried that your headache signifies anything new or unusual – perhaps it’s another of your awful migraines – the natural thing to do is to reach for the painkillers you picked up in the pharmacy. But if you’re one of the 1 in 20 people unlucky enough to suffer from regular headaches occurring most days, that means you’re popping pills an awful lot.

Panadol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Nurofen), Diclofenac (Voltaren) and any other anti-inflammatories, if taken for more than 15 days per month, can actually cause a headache! And some other medications (such as “tryptans” for migraine, or codeine) can cause headaches if taken for more than 10 days per month.


How do I know it’s a medication overuse headache?

The sign to look out for with “Medication Over-Use Headache” is that the headache you were treating in the first place has worsened and may now be occurring every day. The treatment is rotten – you have to stop the painkillers abruptly, which makes the headache much worse in the short-term and may result in withdrawal symptoms. After 1-2 months the Medication Over-Use Headache should have improved and your GP can help you find a new way to treat the headaches you started off with.


If you get migraines and you recognise the symptoms well, you can obtain an online medical certificate without having to drag yourself down to the GP surgery every time?  You can speak with an online doctor who will go through your symptoms and may be able issue you a medical certificate online. Qoctor is staffed by online doctors based in Australia- it’s a perfect solution when you need a medical certificate, but really don’t need a long uncomfortable sit in a crowded waiting room!

Learn about our online medical certificate service

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About the Author:

Richard Bennett
Dr Bennett is an experienced UK-qualified GP in Melbourne. For many years he was a GP owner, where he was also an Executive Board Member for the Local Health Authority. Rich loves Norwich City FC and barracks for Geelong in the AFL. Go Cats!

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