Analgesic Drug Taking: Beliefs and Behavior Among Headache Patients


Dr. Anna Ferrari, Centro per Io Studio delle Cefalee dell Universita di Modena, Servizio di Tossicologia e Farmacologia Clinica, Azienda Ospedaliera Policlinico, via del Pozzo 71, 41100 Modena, Italy.


Objective. —To explore beliefs and behavior with respect to analgesic drug taking in headache patients. To compare episodic headache to chronic headache sufferers.

Methods. —A consecutive series of 280 headache patients, newly admitted to the Headache Center of the University of Modena, all referred by their general practitioner, were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire, specially compiled for this survey. The questionnaire invited patients to indicate how they themselves thought they should best cope with their headache, and how they actually did so in practice.

Results. —The majority of our patients had a positive attitude towards over-the-counter analgesics, which they believed to be more adequate than prescription drugs for acute treatment of their headache. They handled analgesics very carefully, believing it correct to take the drug only when the pain became unbearable, if it was not possible for them to stop work. Chronic headache patients tended to consume more prescription drugs than episodic headache sufferers. Furthermore, the majority of chronic sufferers, as opposed to episodic sufferers, took the analgesic even when not at work.

Conclusions. —The use of over-the-counter drugs is considered the best way to treat acute headache even by subjects suffering from severe idiopathic headache and seeking professional care in specialized clinics. Prescribed analgesics are underused by patients with serious episodic headache, which is precisely the group for which they are principally intended.