American Headache Society

View all recommendations from this society

Released November 21, 2013

Don’t recommend prolonged or frequent use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications for headache.

OTC medications are appropriate treatment for occasional headaches if they work reliably without intolerable side effects. Frequent use (especially of caffeine-containing medications) can lead to an increase in headaches, known as medication overuse headache (MOH). To avoid this, OTC medication should be limited to no more than two days per week. In addition to MOH, prolonged overuse of acetaminophen can cause liver damage, while overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.


These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American Headache Society (AHS) Board of Directors approved the creation of a task force to lead work on the Choosing Wisely® campaign. The task force consisted of: Elizabeth Loder, MD, MPH, (AHS President), Stephen Silberstein, MD, (Chair of the AHS Guidelines and Position Paper Committee), Randolph Evans, MD, Benjamin Frishberg, MD, Scott Litin, MD, Donald Dworek, MD, Josif Stakic, MD, and Jessica Ailani, MD.

The list was developed in consultation with AHS members, who received an electronic survey informing them of the project and asking them to recommend items to be considered for the list. The task force reviewed a list of 11 candidate topics that had been developed from the over 100 suggestions received from AHS members.

The task force met twice by conference call to review the suggestions and choose items for further development, and then communicated electronically during the development and approval process. Final items were selected based on commonly encountered situations in headache medicine associated with poor patient outcomes, low-value care or misuse or overuse of resources. The five recommendations were then approved by the AHS Executive Committee and Board of Directors.

The AHS disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at: www.americanheadachesociety.org/professional_resources/disclosure_policy.

Sources

Bigal ME, Serrano D, Buse D, Scher A, Stewart WF, Lipton RB. Acute migraine medications and evolution from episodic to chronic migraine: a longitudinal population-based study. Headache. 2008 Sep;48(8):1157–68.

Bigal ME, Lipton RB. Excessive acute migraine medication use and migraine progression. Neurology. 2008 Nov 25;71(22):1821–8.

Zwart JA, Dyb G, Hagen K, Svebak S, Holmen J. Analgesic use: a predictor of chronic pain and medication overuse headache – the Head-HUNT Study. Neurology. 2003;61:160–4.

Silberstein SD. Practice parameter: evidence-based guidelines for migraine headache (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2000;55:754–62.