A new study suggests that, far from improving, family doctors might be getting worse at treating routine headaches. The evidence shows that even though guidelines recommend less imaging, fewer drugs, and more counseling, the trend is going in the opposite direction, making headache care more expensive, less effective, and adding risks.
Keeping Watch on the Doctors
This new study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, looked at more than 9000 doctor visits for headaches between 1999 and 2010. They compared the treatments patients were given for their headaches and tried to identify trends in headache care over these years. What they found was troubling.
Recommended treatment modes like counseling declined from 23.5% of visits in 1999 to 18.5% of visits in 2010. Meanwhile, drug prescriptions increased slightly with a mix for individual treatments. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs holding at about 16% of recommendations. Anti-migraine medications like triptans and ergot alkaloids rose from 9.8% to 15.4%. Some medications like anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, and others that have proven value in headache care rose from 8.5% to 15.4%. Opioids and barbiturates, which evidence recommends against, remain used in about 18% of visits. Finally CT and MRI scans more than doubled from 6.7% to 13.9%.
These results are concerning because many of these treatment modes have significant negative impacts, in addition to their significant cost. For example, opioid use can lead to dependence, medication headaches, and pain hypersensitivity. Excessive headache scans can lead to anxiety, false positives, and more invasive (but often unnecessary) treatments.
An Alternative for Headache Care
With doctors becoming more dependent on medications and continuing to use damaging treatment modes, you may be looking for an alternative approach to your headache care. At the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado, we can help. We offer a drug-free treatment method that can alleviate or eliminate your headaches, as well as associated symptoms like tinnitus and jaw pain.