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NICE: Standards for headache care

Patients with headaches should be cautioned about the risk of medication overuse, new guidelines from NICE suggest. 

The latest guidelines state that people with primary headaches should be given more information on medication overuse, which can in fact cause worse headaches.

People with headaches should also have their headache 'type' classified on diagnosis, allowing them to get the correct treatment for that particular type. 

Corrent treatment can relieve the symptoms of migraine, improving quality of live, NICE said. 

Primary headaches are not due to another underlying health problem, such as tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches. 

Secondary headaches have a separate cause, for example an allergy, flu or sinusitis. 

Professor Gillian Leng, director of health and social care at NICE said: “Headaches and migraine can have a very significant, negative impact upon those who suffer from them. 

“It is important for people to understand that different headaches require different treatments, and so a correct diagnosis is vital. People may not know that overusing some types of medication for treating tension-type headaches or migraines can actually make things worse, causing further pain.” 

Sam Chong, consultant neurologist and member of the committee which developed the quality standard said: “Headaches and migraine can be debilitating and distressing for those affected. Effective management of headaches depends on making a correct diagnosis and agreeing an appropriate treatment plan. 

“Medication overuse headaches are a common problem; I hope this quality standard will go some way in raising awareness of this, and ensure that people with headache and migraine are getting the right treatment.”

The full guidance is available to view on the NICE website