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Background: Frequent, excessive use of over-the-counter or prescription analgesics may lead to analgesic rebound headache. Little is known about the magnitude of the health problem posed by analgesic rebound headache, its epidemiology, the characteristics of analgesic rebound headache sufferers, or about physicians’ approaches to treatment.

Methods: Four hundred seventy-three practitioners, who had previously expressed an interest in the treatment of headache, were mailed a questionnaire designed to capture information about the frequency and management of analgesic rebound headache and about the characteristics of analgesic rebound headache sufferers.

Results: Completed questionnaires were returned by 174 practitioners (37%) from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. More than 40% of respondents indicated that analgesic rebound headache was present in at least 20% of their patients. On average, the physicians reported that 73% of patients with analgesic rebound headache were women. Analgesic rebound headache was most likely to occur in patients aged 31 to 40 years. No one analgesic was consistently identified as causative, although acetaminophen, butalbital + aspirin + caffeine, and aspirin were commonly used by patients. Eighty percent of respondents indicated that depression was commonly observed in analgesic rebound headache sufferers; 77% indicated that physical conditions (especially gastrointestinal symptoms) were commonly observed. A variety of therapeutic strategies, including pharmacotherapy, were used in the management of analgesic rebound headache.

Conclusion: Analgesic rebound headache was recognized as a distinct entity and a substantive component in more than 40% of the practices of 174 surveyed practitioners. Genera practitioners, who see a wide variety of patient types with a spectrum of complaints, need to be able to diagnose analgesic rebound headache by taking a good history.