Medications that are prescribed for treating conditions other than headaches sometimes cause headaches as a side effect.
- One example is nitroglycerin, which is prescribed for people with heart disease. This medication enlarges (dilates) blood vessels, an event that can trigger a headache.
- Other medications known to cause headaches in some individuals include birth control pills, nifedipine, indomethacin, cimetidine, resperine, and theophylline.
If you are taking any medications -- prescription medications, nonprescription medications, or herbal products -- and suspect that they are causing your headaches, note the following information during your next five to seven headache attacks:
- time that you take the medication
- time that you experience the headache
After tracking this information, if you notice a correlation between your medication and headaches, consult your physician.
Fluctuating daily headaches may occur as a result of chronic use of certain headache medications, caffeine, or both.
- Ergotamine medications that are prescribed to relieve the pain of migraine headaches may produce rebound headaches, sometimes referred to as ergotamine-abuse headaches.
- Daily, or near-daily, overuse of common nonprescription medications, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, may lead to analgesic-abuse headaches.
Treating medication-overuse headaches requires that use of the medication causing the headaches be stopped completely; moreover, the medication must be avoided for 8 to 12 weeks.
- Some patients successfully discontinue medications on an outpatient basis.
- While some of these individuals are able to stop using headache medications abruptly, others need to lower the dose gradually over several weeks.
- Other patients require hospitalization during the withdrawal process.
- Over several weeks, medication-overuse headaches shift from a chronic and daily occurrence to a sporadic event. Ultimately, the frequency of headaches returns to the level that existed before medication abuse.