A recent study has demonstrated that people with chronic headaches who take too many painkillers only make their pain worse, and that can lead to depression and anxiety.
“This is really important,” says associate professor and lead author Lars Bendtsen of the Department of Clinical Medicine at Copenhagen University and the Danish Headache Centre at Glostrup Hospital and Rigshospitalet. “People should know that taking painkillers daily can be harmful, but also that it is possible to get off them again.”
During the study, Bendtsen and a team of scientists from Chile, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Spain examined how 492 patients who overused painkillers reacted to gradually reducing their consumption over a period of two months.
Prior to cutting back on painkillers, patients underwent a series of tests to determine how many whole and half days of work they’d missed and how high their score was on a depression and anxiety scale.
After six months, 90 percent of the patients had succeeded in reducing their painkiller intake and had taken 50 percent fewer days off work and days with reduced working hours, as well as reduced their symptoms of depression by 50 percent and anxiety by 27 percent.
Heavy consumption of painkillers does not, however, necessarily give everyone a headache, according to the researchers.
“Oddly enough it’s only headache patients who get worse headaches as a result of over-consuming painkillers. It doesn’t apply to people with knee pain and such. This is certainly not my experience as a doctor, although this hasn’t actually been studied yet,” says Bendtsen.
Overconsumption of painkillers appears to bring about changes to the nervous system of people who already suffer from chronic headaches, resulting in them becoming even more sensitive to pain in general, he says.