Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Public service message: rebound headaches

So, late in March someone sent me a link to a lecture about types of headaches. Don’t remember the details. What I do remember is that I, who have had frequent headaches since forever, never actually looked into headaches as a phenomenon because (I guess) it just seemed like part of life. I mean, I remember as a teenager finally realizing that the reason most people don’t carry Excedrin with them all the time is because they’re not worried about getting a headache, and the reason they’re not worried is because they just aren’t going to get one.

I’m the sort of person who looks up stuff. But then, of course, the internet wasn’t a Thing until recently, so it used to be harder to look stuff up. So that’s probably why I never actually did any research into headaches.

Anyway. It turns out that about 2% of most populations suffer from chronic headache conditions. I mean the kind that aren’t dangerous, just unpleasant. (Very unpleasant.) The three most common types of headaches are migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches. The kind that I have seem to be frequent episodic tension-type headaches plus some (mild) migraines. My headaches used to have typical triggers: lack of sleep, glare, whatever. A few years ago, they decoupled from any noticeable trigger and became a lot more frequent. Excedrin remained fairly effective in treatment, most of the time, so that was how I managed.

Tension-type headaches should be re-named because tension as such has nothing to do with it, at least for me. During highly stressful periods of my life, thankfully rare, I have fewer headaches, not more.

Here’s the good news: it turns out that one thing that can make headache conditions become a lot worse is taking a lot of painkillers. Taking painkillers for headaches more than fifteen days a month can cause rebound headaches, if you are already suffering from a headache condition. Well, I was taking headache medication a lot more than fifteen times a month — more like 28 days a month. I was waking up with headaches most days and often having them come back during the day.

So I stopped taking any medication at the end of March. I was taking a break from writing, so that was a good time to try this. I continued taking 100 mg of caffeine first thing in the morning and sometimes added 50 mg of caffeine in early afternoon. And after the first ten days, if I did get a serious headache, I went ahead and took Excedrin. My goal was to take Excedrin no more than ten days in the month, no more than a few days in a row.

I put a checkmark on every day in April when I was driven to take headache medication. There are six checkmarks. Six. For the whole month. Three days in a row in the middle of the month, then about one a week.

This is fabulous. It puts me back to about where I was three or so years ago, before the headaches became such a constant thing.

So, the problem is way better than it was and I hope it will stay that way. So hey, if any of you happen to suffer from chronic headaches that have gotten way more frequent than in the past, here you go: rebound headaches might be causing some of your headaches and, though it’s not an actual cure or anything, you might be able to get rid of those and back the problem off to something a bit more tolerable.

Incidentally, have you noticed how in novels, no one suffers from chronic headaches? Or arthritis? Or back pain? (I know this is not 100% true, but basically no one.) I long for the day when we can edit all chronic pain conditions out of real life the way we edit them out of fiction.

As a second side note: the topic I hate most in student papers is anything that draws on the idea that Addiction To Painkillers Is A Serious Problem. You know what the real problem is? Pain, that’s what. I believe you may find, if you are in pain, that you can quite easily get addicted to NOT BEING IN PAIN. Allow me to stifle argument for an authoritarian moment: No one should be allowed to express an opinion on this topic unless they have suffered from a chronic pain condition for more than three months.

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6 Comments Public service message: rebound headaches

  1. elaine t

    Oh believe me, I’ve noticed how no one in novels suffers chronic headaches. Speaking as someone who had migraines for most of my life before I figured out they were migraines (never noticed the aura and could will myself to a sort of functioning). I like modern medicine – migraine meds work!

    Actually I can think of two characters who do… no, three. Lymond, The Dauphin in Morris’ KINGDOM FOR A SONG, and Aunt Awhatsis in 8 DAYS OF LUKE.

    Yes, rebound headaches are a thing. The Teen gets them from just a few days of painkiller monthly and that isn’t even for headache. So we keep migraine medicine around. The specialty migraine meds don’t seem to cause rebound, which is good.

    What we’ve discovered and may be contributing to yours is a lot of the cause (in our family) is hormonal. Seeing a good endocrinologist and finding out what was out of balance and treating it eased mine considerably. They went from weekly to once in a while, as a cue to tweak dosage of the endocrine stuff.

    I’m glad you are doing so much better now – headaches are no fun.

    And I wholly agree with you on the addiction rant. The whole family can rant about the pain killer addiction nonsense. Related to that … where did I see it…? Oh, over on http://madgeniusclub.com/ yesterday Sarah Hoyt talked about how she hadn’t known she’d been in pain for 20+ years, but once she had surgery and was on super Motrin she actually could sleep. So she figured out she’d been in pain all the time, it just never really registered. And how getting relief is changing her life. She can sleep! She can just sit down and read because it’s like breathing, not a duty!

  2. Rachel

    There are a few others. That kid in McKinley’s DRAGONHAVEN, but his were caused by the dragon, of course. Still, I could truly sympathize. Also, I just read the rest of Longyear’s INFINITY HOLD trilogy and the protagonist suffers near constant headaches . . . after getting shot in the head. Not quite the same! I would rather not experiment with that means of causing headaches!

    I am making a very definite mental note about the specialty meds not causing rebound. Good to know! For me, hormonal flux used to be a very clear trigger, but far less identifiably so in latter years. However, if the headaches get worse again, I will see an endocrinologist.

    A different problem, my hip, caused me to wake up in pain every single night for about a year, until I realized that a memory foam mattress might help. It did. SUCH a relief to be able to sleep all the way through the night!

  3. Kim Aippersbach

    I think one of the most powerful passages in all of Bujold’s writing (and she’s got a lot of good stuff!), is the scene in Komarr when Ekaterina is given fast-penta.

    “Oh,” she said, in a surprised voice. “It doesn’t hurt.”

    . . . If a person lived in hurt like a mermaid in water, till hurt became as invisible as breath, its sudden removal—however artificial—must come as a stunning event.

    . . . But my God, isn’t she beautiful when she is not in pain?

    (Speaking of characters suffering from chronic pain, Miles Vorkosigan might qualify, although his is more chronically repeated acute pain!)

  4. Rachel

    Yes, that is a great scene. Plus, of course, it’s nice to know that she’s going to make a way better life for herself after this point!

    Broken bones are not a fun thing, but they do heal. I am pretty sure chronic untreatable pain is worse. Though possibly one would want someone with osteogenesis imperfect to weigh in on that one!

  5. Pamela

    “You know what the real problem is? Pain, that’s what. I believe you may find, if you are in pain, that you can quite easily get addicted to NOT BEING IN PAIN.”

    100% behind this.
    Another thing you don’t always realise until you get on pain meds, just how much energy chronic pain sucks up. Even lower levels of chronic pain. The difference it can make to everyday living is amazing.

  6. Rachel

    Pamela, YES. When I was dealing with the herniated disks in my neck, the pain was the FIRST thing on my mind EVERY MOMENT. Impossible to overemphasize how horrible those few months were, before my excellent chiropractor got that under control.

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