When is a Headache not a Headache?

So when is a headache not a headache?

When it is a migraine, of course. But in reality, people often say they have a migraine, when in fact they’ve just got a headache. They just don’t nknow the difference and quite how debilitating migrainses can really be. In fact, migraines are caused by a brain disorder and they involve a lot more than just a headache.

Usually, migraines will last between 4 and 72 hours and their symptoms include extreme sensitivity to light, throbbing, nausea, vomiting, frightening visual disturbances and even temporary blindness.

The classic migraine has four stages: a prodrome phase – this is when you know a migraine is coming down the pipe – so get ready, the aura stage, the headache phase with often debilitating symptoms, and the postdrome stage when the severe pain has gone when the sufferer feels ‘bruised’ inside and generally trampled on.

Doctors diagnose migraine rather than headache when the patient has at least two of the four major stages that migraine typically goes through as well as a minor symptoms. This could be extreme sensitivity to certain smells for example.

In contrast, severe headaches are usually just that – headaches – and these can respond well to treatment with Co-Codamol and other pain killers.

Back Pain – When NSAIDs are not Enough

People with severe, chronic back pain, especially those who have gone through the trials of surgery, sometimes find that NSAIDs and muscle relaxants are not sufficient to cope with the pain. For this group, narcotic medications or opioids like Co-Codamol can be the answer. Studies indicate that as many as 70% of back pain patients have used opioids in their pain management program.

Opioids act on pain receptors in the brain and nerve cells to alleviate pain. Milder, shorter-acting versions, like Co-Codamol which is formulated from paracetemol with codeine can often provide benefits for this group without the need to take recourse in stronger medications such as morphine.

Their most common side effects include:

Drowsiness and sedation
Risk of dependency
Allergic reactions, such as hives and itching

So caution is warranted when using these medications. But for some people long term use under medical supervision is the only option as otherwise pain makes their lives intolerable, and if they come off the medication they just cannot function.