Chronic daily headache

Most of us get headaches from time to time, but some people have a headache more days than not, and may be suffering from a chronic daily headache. The definition of a chronic daily headache is when you have a headache at least 15 days each month, for at least three months, and the pain is not as a result of another condition.

There are three main types of chronic daily headaches: chronic migraine, chronic tension headache and new daily persistent headache. The differences between the types is that the migraine type of pain is generally on one side of the head and usually involves sensitivity to light and sound, and is usually accompanied by vomiting or nausea. Chronic tension headaches usually only last a few hours, the pain affects both sides of the head and nausea or sensitivity to light and sound does not always occur. New daily persistent headaches continue as a constant pain on both sides of the head from the moment they start, with similar symptoms to the tension headache.

All of these types of head pain affect the sufferer from carrying out their normal activities, preventing them from working to their full potential. They are regarded as disabling because they produce such a poor effect on the quality of life.  

The cause of chronic daily headaches is unknown in many cases, but for some people it is the result of overusing pain medications. Taking prescription pain medicines, or even over-the-counter analgesics, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen several days each week, may cause what is known as a rebound effect. This happens when a treatment starts to cause the problem it is being used to treat. Other sufferers of this condition have also reported difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, as well as caffeine overuse or sudden withdrawal of caffeine containing drinks.

Treatment for chronic daily headaches depends on the type of headache.  Ideally, you need to remove the cause of the problem, if possible and if it has been identified. The first step is generally withdrawing all pain relieving medicines and any likely substances that may be causing the head pain, such as coffee. Treating underlying conditions, such as anxiety, may help to prevent the condition occurring, so antidepressants are often the first treatments used as they have a dual effect. Low doses of migraine-preventing medicines, such as beta blockers, may also be helpful as preventers of these headaches, and if these are not successful then specialist intervention is required for more complex medication to prevent and relive this condition.

If you or your family are affected by chronic or persistent headaches, then talk to your pharmacist. Your pharmacist will be able to talk to you about what you may have used to treat the pain, what the possible causes might be, and refer you on for further diagnosis and treatment if required.

Chronic daily headaches limit the quality of life for all who suffer from them and they are distressing for all to see. Don’t rely on self-diagnosis and treatment for common pain problems - consult your community pharmacist. They are trained and able to help you with both treatments and advice.