The refractory headache patient-II. High medication consumption (analgesic rebound) headache

Denise M. Michultka, Edward B. Blanchard, Kenneth A. Appelbaum, James Jaccard, Mark P. Dentinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


'Analgesic rebound headache' is identified by habituation of an individual to pain reducing medication, the exacerbation of headache pain a few hours after medication consumption and a marked increase in headache frequency and intensity for several weeks after medication is discontinued. We describe three studies undertaken to clarify the existence and characteristics of this proposed headache syndrome. In Study 1 we compared a group of headache sufferers who consume large amounts of analgesic medications to headache sufferers who did not consume excessive analgesics. It was found that the two groups did not differ on age, duration of headache problem or gender. However, the groups did differ on subjective headache pain (with the high medicators experiencing more headache pain than low medicators) and diagnosis (with high medicators being more likely to have a muscle contraction component to their headaches). In an analysis of drug use within the high medication group, it was found that 91% were taking some kind of analgesic and that a majority (84%) were taking more than one type of medication. In Study 2 we found that the group of high medicators were not as successful in reducing headache activity as a result of a self-regulatory behavioral treatment as the matched controls. Furthermore, there was a direct relationship between reduction and treatment success in the high medication consuming population. Lastly, in Study 3 we examined the current psychological functioning of the two groups; no differences were found between the two groups indicating the lack of 'addictive' personality characteristics as an explanation for the high medicating population. These findings all support the existence of a sub-population of headache sufferers who consume excessive amounts of analgesic medication and who are relatively refractory to behavioral treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-420
Number of pages10
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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