NICE produces new guidelines to reduce painkiller overuse in UK

Hannah Blake


Around 1 in 50 people in the UK experience headaches caused by the overuse of painkillers, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Common over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol or aspirin, are effective for easing the pain of occasional headaches. However, taking these medications too often can reduce their effectiveness and cause further pain.

NICE has published new guidance advising GPs and other healthcare professionals to be alert to the possibility of “medication overuse” in their patients who have been taking headache medication for up to 15 days per month, over three months or more, whose headache has developed or worsened while taking the drugs. With the current UK population at around 6 billion, this means over 1 million are suffering from headaches caused by “medication overuse”.

“Although headache is the most common neurological problem seen by GPs and neurologists, many people are not receiving correct or timely diagnoses. The key features of medication overuse and the symptoms that distinguish the types of primary headache can be overlooked and concerns from patients about possible underlying causes can lead to unnecessary hospital investigations. These can mean people experience delays in receiving adequate pain relief from what can be an extremely disabling condition.

“Our guideline outlines the assessments and treatments that people should expect to receive for primary headaches and medication overuse. We hope that this will help GPs and other healthcare professionals to correctly diagnose the type of headache disorder and better recognise patients whose headaches could be caused by their over-reliance on medications.”

Dr Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive of NICE.

In the UK, over 10 million people in the UK experience regular or frequent headaches. Headaches are the main focus of approximately 1 in 25 primary care consultations, making them one of the most common health complaints. It’s been estimated that women are five times more likely to get headaches than men.


Related news:

1m Britons have headaches from overusing painkillers (The Guardian)

Reference links:

NICE press release

NICE headache guidance

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