How to Treat Rebound Headaches

  • Medical Author:
    Standiford Helm II, MD

    Dr. Helm has been practicing interventional pain management since 1982. Dr. Helm is a diplomate of the American Board of Anesthesiology with subspecialty certification in Pain Medicine and of the American Board of Pain Medicine. Dr. Helm is a Fellow of Interventional Pain Practice (FIPP), the only certifying agency which tests the ability to perform interventional pain procedures. Dr. Helm is also an examiner for FIPP.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask the experts

How does pain medication lead to "rebound" headaches?

Doctor's response

Rebound headaches are one of the most common causes of daily headache. They occur when you take a medication for a headache, the headache goes away and then returns; and you take another pill and ultimately become dependent on the medication to avoid having the headache. Instead of taking the medication to get rid of the headache, you are now in a situation where the absence of the medication causes the headache. This can be caused by any of the medications used to treat headache, including over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotics, and anti-migraine medications. The treatment is to wean the patient off the medication.

The mechanism by which rebound headaches occur is in unknown. Some writers have suggested that the body becomes tolerant to the medication, but that does not explain why so many different types of medication can cause rebound headaches.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


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Reviewed on 6/19/2017