Medications That Cause Medication Overuse Headaches

A medication overuse headache, also known as a rebound headache, occurs from over-utilization of acute headache therapies.

Let's explore what this headache feels like, when it occurs, and which medications can cause it.

Young man with headache, close-up
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What Is Medication Overuse Headache?

A medication overuse headache occurs when a person takes a headache pain reliever for 10 to 15 or more days per month, depending on the medication, for more than 3 months. It occurs in people who have a pre-existing headache disorder. This means that you should not be getting headaches if taking a pain-reliever for another health condition.

Also, healthcare providers believe that it's not the total dose of headache medications that causes medication overuse headaches, but the frequency — meaning how often it's taken during a week.

What It Feels Like

It can feel like a person's usual headache, or it can shift between feeling like a migraine to feeling like a tension headache, even within the same day. It's important that a medication overuse headache is diagnosed properly, as patients usually do not respond to headache preventive medication while overusing acute headache medications.


Really any medication used for the acute treatment of headaches can cause medication overuse headache. These include:

  • Triptans
  • Ergotamines such as DHE, Migranal, and Cafergot
  • Simple over-the-counter analgesics such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen
  • Opioids, such as codeine and Dilaudid

Opiods and DHE are more likely than the others to cause medication overuse headaches.
Combination medications may be especially likely to cause rebound headaches although there is no robust scientific data to back this up. Examples of combination medications include:
Butalbital compounds containing aspirin or acetaminophen, butalbital, and caffeine, and Vicodin, which contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone.


Immediately discontinuing the medication causing the medication overuse headache is the preferred plan of action, and starting a preventive or other medication in the meantime is important. Depending on the medication, withdrawal symptoms may occur. These include:

  • Withdrawal headache
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Restlessness and anxiety

In some cases, where the medication overuse is being caused by large amounts of butalbital compounds, seizures can occur if the medication is abruptly withdrawn. In these cases, a tapered withdrawal or supervised detoxification is necessary. The best approach is to ask your healthcare provider for help and advice.

A Word From Verywell

The good news is that if you are currently experiencing medication overuse headaches, they usually improve after the overused medication is stopped.

That said, it seems that any medication we take for headache or migraine relief has the potential to cause a medication overuse headache if used more than two or three days a week. In the long run, a good preventive medication is probably your best bet in overcoming frequent tension headaches or migraines.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Headache Society. Chronic Daily Headache and Chronic Migraine.

  • Goadsby, Peter J., MD, PhD, DSc, FRACP, FRCP; Silberstein, Stephen D., MD, FACP; Dodick, David W., MD, FRCPD, FACP. Chronic Daily Headache for Clinicians. Hamilton, Ontario: BC Decker. 2005.
  • Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. "The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 3rd Edition (beta version)". Cephalalgia 2013;33(9):629-808.
  • Tepper SJ. Debate: analgesic overuse is a cause, not consequence, of chronic daily headache. Analgesic overuse is a cause of chronic daily headache. Headache. 2002 Jun;42(6):543-7.