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Medication Overuse Headache Alert!

As you may well imagine, I fancy myself a migraine patient expert. I try to keep up with the latest remedies and preventive measures; I continually aim to educate others about this debilitating disease so that, ultimately, it’s not as debilitating. I talk with other writers and readers through this blog, and I visit pretty consistently to see what the doctors and patient advocates have to say.

So you can imagine my surprise when I realized last weekend that I am totally overdosing on my medications. Like, for real. Like, no wonder I have had so many more migraine attacks in the last few months. It wasn’t just because I keep falling off the exercise/diet/yoga wagon. It wasn’t just because I’ve been [ineffectively] dealing with the stress of my busy schedule and starting my business. I think the main culprit is MOH, or “medication overuse headache,” which you can learn more about here.

You see, I have become such an “expert” that I have let myself off the hook when it comes to getting a new neurologist. I fired my most recent one awhile back now and, despite my intentions, have yet to hire a new one. The task just seems so intimidating, and for awhile I was feeling so wonderful (especially due to the help of my primary care doctor and my complementary care physician) that I didn’t “need” to get a new migraine specialist. My Imitrex package says not to take it more than two days a week. My Maxalt says I can take it three days a week. Both sets of instructions indicate I should not take one triptan within 24 hours of the other.

So here’s what I’ve been doing lately, especially during my particularly migrainous periods: I’ve been taking one triptan for as many days as allowed, and when the migraine came up yet again within the same week, I waited the requisite 24 hours and took another type of drug.

WRONG! Bad Janet!

During the National Headache Foundation’s mini-conference in Georgia this month, I heard from (and spoke with) a handful of migraine and headache disease specialists and found out something I used to know for myself: that it’s not safe to take triptans so often! I am making myself sicker by taking too many meds!

This week my cycle starts again; a few days ago I had one day of taking Maxalt but refrained the next day, even when a migraine hit. I had the rare opportunity to stay in bed, so between the migraine and my cold , I felt I had some pretty good reasons to rest up. I took my Theraflu and a naproxen (in an attempt to ward off my menstrual-related migraine, I am resuming an old habit, recommended by my former neurologist, of taking naproxen starting two days before my period and continuously throughout the period). And you know what? I felt better! I don’t know if it was the rest, or the drugs, or both, but I felt better and I hadn’t continued my MOH cycle. Keep your fingers crossed for me that I can keep this up, and please take my advice if you are trying to self-treat and may not have all the knowledge you should: use your doctor’s expertise and the information on to make sure you’re not making your condition worse!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Joni Ribelin Boardman
    9 years ago

    My old neurologist had me taking a Relpax, followed an hour or two later with a Frova. The Relpax is fast acting and the Frova longer lasting. It worked for the most part, I would avoid taking any the next day. But would take it the 3rd day again if needed. My migraines usually last 6 days no matter what I do.

  • Janice Worden Lamb Clemens
    9 years ago

    I have had migraines since I was in High school but only occaisional and they didn’t classify them as true migraines back then (I am 47 now). I have been having a daily tension/cluster/migaine? Since march of last year(2010). Finally went to a neuro as my pcp did everything he could and ran out of options he was comfortable with. I have tried yoga, acupuncture, herbal remedies, have tried to decrease my stress all without results. My neuro put me on a combination of topamx and depakote. This is my last resort.I didn’t want to go on depakote but I have been on all the triptans, which work for a while but I have had the headaches everyday and could not take triptans everyday, and I have to work.And I do go to work everyday wven with the worst ones 99% of the time. The topamax and depakote are working somewhat except when I get really stressed like I woke up this morning with a killer migraine (the kind where I could blow my brains out) I do have esgic plus but I tend to overuse..just to make my head not hurt. Any suggestions? I’ll try just about anything right now….

  • pncmac
    1 year ago

    I have had migraines since middle school 🙁
    I didn’t know they started that early until I found one of my journals on a 8th grade Disneyland school trip that said “I had one of “THOSE” headaches” The emphasis was on “THOSE”.
    I had thrown up in the trash can in front of the Matterhorn, not to mention the boy I had a crazy crush on. Not one of my finer moments…

    Fast forward to my 20’s. My migraines got progressively worse where I honesty thought I was going to die. I thought Excedrin was the only medication out there until I finally went to a dr who prescribed Fioricet. I swear I got dependent on it. Used it for about 3 years.

    I’ve been to several neurologist who only want to prescribe! They aren’t really interested in the “why”. I guess that’s what keep patients coming back.

    I tried topamax in my 40’s for about 3 months and realized that I don’t want to be a slave to medication. One tried to prescribe an antidepressant (Really???) and another one wanted to do a sleep study because that’s what he specialized in. I told him I’ve never had trouble sleeping and LOVE my naps. He still insisted… I never went back.

    So fast forward to my 50’s. I am using what I call my miracle medication. Imitrex. I cut one 100 mg. pill into 4 because I find it to be very strong otherwise. I’ve been using this for several years but have noticed that I get daily headaches. The kind that put me to bed in the middle of the day OR the kind that just gnaw and irritate me to no end. I don’t know which one is worse!!

    I never leave the house without it. It’s in my purse, by my bed and extra bottles for when I run out.
    I got so excited when the pharmacist gave me 60 pills this last refill instead of the 9 pills I use to get. I thought I hit the Motherload!!!

    Am I addicted? Am I afraid when I feel a slight pain in my head that I have to intercede with an imitrex so I don’t feel that awful pain?

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I am totally having rebound headaches. I saw myself in most of the people who wrote in and it gave me comfort to know that I am not the only person having to live with this discomfort AND that the overuse is what is probably causing the daily headaches.

    So… I am keeping a log (again) of food, coffee, baked goods hahaha and so on. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke thank goodness and haven’t since my 20’s. I do however love to bake (my happy place) but for now I am going off everything that is a trigger. Sugar, aged food, nitrates and so on.

    With the help of our Lord I know I will find the answers.

    If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear.

  • Lee Worden
    9 years ago

    Wished I had an answer but I read the article on and it suggesets that too much meds is no good either. I hope you feel better later. LOVE YOU

  • Diana Lee
    9 years ago

    Knowing what we should do and actually doing it are totally different things. You’re definitely not alone in feeling like you should have known better, but we all have set backs and moving forward (and sharing your experience) is what matters now.

  • Jamie Sohn
    9 years ago

    *insert sound of clapping for diana’s post.*

    Can’t believe I smacked into MOH last month… even though I knew it was wrong for me to follow the (not-amazingly migraine savvy) doc’s advice. I wanted pain/swelling to go down after a month from an infection and the ugly aftermath, and was so focused on that, and just (I SO KNOW BETTER) used nsaids.

    Yes, I’m more sensitive than many, I suspect. ‘Cause it happened (as I consciously would have known it could play out)- and after 4 days, I was TOAST.

    So much for being an educated AND SITUATIONALLY EDUCATED Migraineur. Screwed up on that one big time.

  • Lisa Beth
    9 years ago

    I have had migraines for over thirty years. Since I was a little girl. I am now 42. I did a ton of research on this. I have been eating crystallized ginger for a month now, two bites a day. (all I can stand) And I did this for a month and had no migraine at all! For a month! I get them two or three times a week and I definitely overdose. Two times during this month I felt a migraine coming on and I ate the ginger and it went away. On those days, I needed a bit more than two bites. I finally got a migraine yesterday that is due to PMS. (I find the hormonal migraines are the hardest to get rid of and usually have to take two or three doses of imitrex, maxalt, or zoemig to get rid of it. I never mix these and always wait 24 hours before taking a different brand. Insurance only allows a certain amount so I need to get three kinds. It is pretty yucky. In anycase, the ginger seems to work for me. It also has many more health benefits. I am going to keep eating the ginger and keeping fingers crossed that I will only get one migraine a month. I can deal with that. It is a walk in the park compared to what I am used to.

  • Lisa Beth
    9 years ago

    also, the migraine yesterday needed imitrex, twice. Plus a fiorinal later at night. The ginger was not enough. This was the ever so hard hormonal triggered ones. I get migraines from everything. Stress is a big one and salt.

  • Teri Robert
    9 years ago

    Oh, Janet! So sorry this happened to you. Glad you now know what happened so you can avoid going there again.

  • Dawn Speed
    9 years ago

    I was taking 18 Imitrex a month on top of Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I recently started having my dorsal nerve released from my shoulders. For the first time in 10yrs I am down to 6-7 headaches and med use is drastically reduced. I feel so much better already.

  • Dale Lecuyer
    9 years ago

    That is FANTASTIC!!!!

  • Bob Dalton
    9 years ago


    I am glad we were able to help. We have lots more programs coming this year, so I hope you will be able to join us again.


  • Scott Smith
    9 years ago

    I use Imitrex 100mg tablets but I always try other things before using the Imitrex. During one visit to the ER for a migraine, I was given an IV with Benadryl, Toradol and Reglan. The Dr told me to try Benadryl and ibuprofen when a migraine started but I can’t take ibuprofen so I use Naproxen. If that fails, I use the Imitrex and have found that taking a nap with the Imitrex is very effective for me.

  • Melissa Sasnett Huebener
    9 years ago

    I have Imitrex statdose. It seems to be working for me. But, I can see how maigraine sufferers over medicate themselves, we are desparate and will do anything relief. I totally get it.

  • Lisa Beth
    9 years ago

    When I get these and the meds dont work, I want to shoot myself in the head it is so painful. I also get cluster headaches, more rare than migraines. I get sinus and tension headaches. the most common for me is the migraines. Before they had these scripts I wanted to die it was so painful. I am greatful for them, but I do see that the more you take, the more migraines you will get. I often feel it coming on and get scared and have no problem popping the pills. But now I am trying more natural things.

  • pncmac
    1 year ago

    I do the same, you are not alone in this.

    I cut my 100 mg Imitrex into 4 and it works great. My dr said if you take it with an Aleve it makes it Maxalt. That seems to work well for me. Hope this helps.

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