Headache Pills Mean Headache Pain

FRESNO, Calif.

12 million people suffer from daily, life-stopping migraines, but treatment through constant pill-popping could do more harm than good. "A few months ago, I couldn't function," Vera Laubacher, a migraine sufferer, told Ivanhoe. Laubacher's migraines got so bad, she didn't know where to turn. "I would have probably three bad weeks out of a month," she said. She stopped walking, exercising, even eating. Laubacher was already taking high daily doses of Topamax and Imitrex, along with aspirin, Aleve and Advil. "They would go away for two hours and come back, so I would take more and more," Laubacher said.

Turns out, the medicine she was using to relieve her pain, was causing it.

"By far, the most common reason patients come to here with daily headache, or near daily headache, is medication overuse," Deborah Tepper, M.D., from the Center for Headache & Pain, Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told Ivanhoe.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed Laubacher with medication overuse headache (MOH).

"If you're acutely treating a headache more than 10 days per month, there is a high likelihood that there is medication overuse," Dr. Tepper said.

The use of powerful painkillers like opioids or butalbital are red flags for MOH, but treatment for patients like Laubacher means being weaned off of those meds completely.

"I don't take aspirin. I don't take Tylenol. I don't take any of that stuff. We threw away the Imitrex," Laubacher said.

Research shows it takes two to six months for the brain to recover from medication over-use. Laubacher is proof. No pills and no daily headache. She knows that less is truly more.

Experts say cutting off all medications won't fully cure patients of their acute migraines, but it will help reduce the recurrence and severity of the pain.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at mmedalie@ivanhoe.com.

Center for Headache and Pain, Neurological Institute, Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
(O) (216) 636-5549

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