Drug-induced headache belongs to the group of secondary headaches, which are usually caused by analgesics or other drugs. This type of headache can be unilateral or bilateral. Drug-induced headache is generally treatable well.

What is medication-induced headache?

Infogram on the causes and symptoms of migraine and headache. Click on the image to enlarge.

A drug-induced headache occurs when persistent headache occurs for at least 15 days per month. These headaches are after over a period of more than three months painkillers have taken more than 10 days a month.

Drug-induced headache is not a primary, ie independent headache such. As migraine or tension headache. However, the primary headache is a prerequisite that a drug-induced headache can first arise.

There are three types of drug-induced headache: chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, and chronic combined headache.

In addition to analgesics (painkillers), other medicines can trigger a drug-induced headache. It must be taken into account whether the drug was used primarily for the treatment of headaches or for another disease, as the drug-induced headache can also occur as a side effect in a long-term medication.


The cause of drug-induced headache is a headache that has been over-treated with analgesics. As a rule, migraine and tension headaches are the primary headache.

Not every form of headache automatically leads to drug-induced headaches. Cluster headache usually results in excessive intake of analgesics only in exceptional cases to drug-induced headache.

It should also be noted that analgesics used for rheumatic diseases, injuries and other diseases are not considered to be the cause of drug-induced headache.

Since a specific cause for drug-induced headache has not yet been determined, it is assumed that a genetic predisposition is in question.

Typical symptoms & signs

  • oppressive-dull to stabbing (even throbbing) headache
  • photosensitivity
  • Flicker in front of his eyes
  • phonophobia

Diagnosis & History

The medication-induced headache is diagnosed by the general practitioner as well as by the neurologist. After a detailed medical history, the affected person is usually recommended to have a so-called headache diary over a longer period of time.

Furthermore, a general physical examination and a blood analysis are carried out. The neurologist examines the patient's neurological status using EEG and other neurological examination methods.

If abnormalities occur in the blood analysis, an internist can also be called in. Especially after years of analgesic abuse kidney and liver may have been damaged. The condition of the internal organs is determined by further blood analyzes. Furthermore, imaging techniques such as ultrasound are used to determine if and to what extent damage to the organs is present.

The course of drug-induced headache is good. With adequate therapy, the success rate is 80 percent.

Depending on how long the drug-induced headache is already present or how long the pain and drug abuse was operated, it can lead to complications in the further course. In addition to liver and kidney, stomach ulcers and gastric tumors can occur. In addition, depression in those with drug-induced headache is common, but it can be treated well by behavioral therapy.


This complaint causes a very severe headache in the patient. In most cases, these pains are usually stinging or oppressive and can thus significantly limit the quality of life. Also, the concentration and the coordination of the affected person is reduced by this complaint.

The pain often spreads from the head to other regions of the body and can also lead to discomfort there. Occasionally there is also a sensitivity to light, so that the headache is further intensified by bright light. Also a noise sensitivity can occur. The patients often have a flicker in front of their eyes and can no longer carry out their usual activities.

The discomfort itself can be easily curtailed by discontinuing or replacing the medication. Especially on painkillers must do without those affected. This can also lead to withdrawal symptoms. Failure to treat this condition may result in inflammation of the stomach or, in the worst case, renal insufficiency that is fatal without treatment. As a rule, the life expectancy of the disease is also reduced if it does not treat this complaint.

When should you go to the doctor?

If there are repeated headaches after taking a drug, the side effects of the package leaflet should be read in a first step. If several drugs are taken at the same time, the information about possible interactions of the preparations should also be read. If the headache occurs repeatedly or increases in intensity, the treating physician should be advised of the side effects. A self-determined interruption of the treatment plan is not recommended because the underlying disease must be treated. Together with the doctor possible alternatives of drug administration should be discussed so that there is no further deterioration of the general condition.

If there is light sensitivity, a flickering vision or a hazy field of view, the observations should be discussed with the physician. If there is a sensitivity to noise, a further decrease in well-being or insomnia, a doctor's visit is required. In case of an inner restlessness, a decrease of the physical as well as the mental capacity and a disturbance of the attention a doctor is needed. If medication is taken over a longer period of time, the headache can slowly develop and increase in intensity. This is a gradual process of drug-induced headache. A doctor should be contacted for the inconvenience in order to optimize the treatment plan.

Treatment & Therapy

A successful treatment of a drug-induced headache provides that the triggering pain and drugs are discontinued right from the beginning.

Since over the months and years of the disease, this is often addictive, a detoxification or withdrawal is the drug of choice. The prerequisite for this, however, is that the patient wants 100 percent of this, because the absence of painkillers causes a so-called rebound effect, which means that the pain intensifies when the medication is discontinued. These withdrawal headaches can usually last for up to three weeks.

Since in addition to the drug-induced headache depression is often present in those affected, it is advisable to make a hospital withdrawal. In addition to the treatment of pain and other withdrawal symptoms from specific medications, behavioral therapy is an important factor in ensuring the success of the treatment.

When the symptoms have resolved, it is important to find and treat the cause of the causative headache. The therapy begins during the withdrawal and will be continued in the following months. In addition to adequate pain therapy and psychological behavior training, it is important that physiotherapeutic measures are taken, especially when tension headaches are the cause of the drug-induced headache.

The treatment of drug-induced headache also provides for the treatment of the consequences of analgesic abuse. Excessive use of painkillers above all damages the stomach, liver, kidneys and blood vessels. Gastritis, gastric ulcers, hepatitis and renal insufficiency are just a few of the diseases that can occur as a result of drug-induced headache.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis for a headache induced by medication is favorable. After discontinuation of the drugs used, there is a gradual regression of the symptoms. Normally a complaint-free period is reached within one day. Therefore, a spontaneous healing is to be expected if the person concerned no longer uses the painkillers taken in the future.

Supporting the affected person can increase the intake of liquids. This contributes to the fact that the medicines taken are removed from the organism and excreted. If the active ingredients that have caused the health impairments in the body, the body to be re-fed, is expected to return the complaints. The affected person should therefore resort to persistent remedies. It is advisable to discuss the side effects with the attending physician. The treatment plan for primary disease treatment will be revised and adjusted accordingly.

If there is no underlying disease, it is sufficient to do without the painkillers. Nevertheless, it is advisable to clarify the pain trigger to seek medical treatment. In order to ensure a lasting freedom from symptoms of drug-induced headache, over the lifespan a control of the active ingredients contained in prescribed or acquired medicines should take place in the further course. A long-term renunciation of the triggering elements is necessary.


A drug-induced headache can be well prevented. The most important point is that with headaches on no more than max. three consecutive days and no more than max. ten days a month painkillers and migraine remedies are taken.

If a primary headache is present, analgesics should only be taken in the permitted dosage and duration. of the instruction leaflet. If the headache does not resolve within 48 hours, consult a doctor who may prescribe other, more effective medications.

Since a headache caused by medication is the result of other headaches, it is advisable to have a so-called headache diary. In this way, one can facilitate the diagnosis and cause determination. In addition, the diary serves as a monitoring body, so that an accidental or intentional additional intake of painkillers can be avoided.

Since primary headache is often caused by tense muscles (tension headache), it makes sense to take physiotherapeutic measures, so that the primary no drug-induced headache arises.

You can do that yourself

Patients with drug-induced headache may seek to resort to alternative ways to fight pain. Relaxation procedures have proved particularly helpful. These can be carried out at any time after learning certain exercises on their own responsibility and at their own discretion. Using different techniques, the mental strength of the affected person is built up and stress can be reduced. Concepts such as meditation, autogenic training or yoga have proven to be beneficial. Many patients have successfully succeeded in reducing the dose of the painkillers or to be able to switch to a less active substance-rich drug.

In addition, there are various natural remedies that have been proven in the fight against pain. These include the devil's claw, ginger, willow bark, arnica or curcumin. If the pain can be alleviated, the pain medication can also be changed and changed.

In case of a headache, the patient should sleep sufficiently and in good conditions if possible. The sleep hygiene is therefore to be optimized and the daily routine must be tailored to the needs. Another way to reduce or eliminate the painkillers is the method of acupuncture. Depending on the cause of the pain, the patient can achieve a relief of the symptoms through the natural healing process. This can lead to freedom from pain, so that no more medication is needed.

  • medicinal plants 
  • Diseases 
  • babies and toddlers 
  • hausmittel 
  • anatomy 
  • Top