With the help of Sifo, researcher Pernilla Jonsson interviewed 44,300 Swedes to track the prevalence of medication overuse headaches (MOH) for her thesis.

This study, which is the first of its type in Sweden, shows that 2 out of 100 adult Swedes suffer from headaches caused by overuse of headache medication. This type of headache is three times more common among women than men, and most common among people between 40 and 50 years of age.

Pernilla Jonsson describes MOH as a “vicious circle”:

“As headache frequency increases, the need to medicate also increases, which contributes to overuse and results in even more headaches. Eventually, you have a headache every day or every other day,” she says.

The study shows that among those afflicted with MOH, almost half treat their headaches only with over-the-counter medications.

“Most often, they used medications containing acetaminophen, which is found in Alvedon and Panodil. But research from other countries has established that all acute drugs used to treat headaches, both prescription and over-the-counter, may contribute to the development of this disease if used ten days per month or more,” says Pernilla Jonsson.

The thesis also concludes that headaches due to overmedication are more common among individuals with lower levels of education, but the reason for these differences is unknown.

“Thanks to our study, we now know that MOH is at least as common in Sweden as in other countries. We know which groups are hit hardest, and which medications are most used. Such knowledge is crucial to being able to take preventive measures,” says Pernilla Jonsson.

An essential component of preventive efforts is to increase knowledge and awareness of the disease among healthcare personnel, pharmacy personnel and the general public. The recommended treatment for sufferers of MOH is to stop overusing medications, according to Pernilla Jonsson.

“You should reduce your use of acute medications to a maximum of 10 days per month. Coping with frequent headaches may be difficult, in which case it is wise to seek medical care.”
The thesis “Problematic medication use – Epidemiology and qualitative aspects of medication overuse headache and non-adherence to prophylactic migraine treatment” was defended on November 16.

Pernilla Jonsson, doctoral student at the Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University
+46 (0)31-786 68 66
+46 (0)73-047 36 15

Primary supervisor: Associate professor Tove Hedenrud, +46 (0)31-786 68 55, tove.hendenrud@socmed.gu.se
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