Contrary to long-standing thinking, medications may offer comparable headache relief to those with and without mental disorders.
For an especially miserable time, mix recurring headaches with depression, anxiety or both. But people in such a fix have cause for optimism, courtesy of a team led by psychologist Bernadette Heckman of Ohio University in Athens.
Drug treatments for headaches work just as well for patients with these psychiatric disorders as for those with no such problems, Heckman and her colleagues report in the November Pain.
Researchers and clinicians generally assume that the presence of one or more psychiatric ailments worsens headache symptoms and thus the prospects for successful treatment. Heckman and her colleagues conducted one of the few prospective studies to test that conviction.
“Contrary to conventional clinical wisdom, many patients with psychiatric disorders responded favorably to headache treatment,” Heckman says.
The team found that, during six months of treatment at any of four outpatient headache clinics, rates of improvement in headache frequency and intensity were about the same for patients with depression, anxiety, a combination of the two or no psychiatric disorders.
In a comment published with the new study, psychologist Todd Smitherman of the University of Mississippi in Oxford and psychiatrist Donald Penzien of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson say that the new findings “give us pause to reconsider our earlier predictions” that people with mental disorders respond poorly to headache treatment.
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