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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Family doctors get headache tips
pill mix
Many migraine patients take too many painkillers
The first published guidance for UK GPs on how to deal with migraine patients is being launched this week.

An estimated eight million people in the UK suffer from regular severe headaches - but most will not even trouble their doctor for help.

However, experts say that many patients end up taking too many over-the-counter painkillers - and could make their condition worse.

They are urging people to head for the surgery door before things get too bad, and are hoping that the new set of guidelines will help GPs know what to do when they get there.

A typical migraine patient will suffer one attack a month - in women, this often happens at a particular time in the menstrual cycle.

However, some patients may suffer fewer - or many more attacks than this.

A migraine can be much more than just a simple headache - involving feelings of severe nausea which can leave a person unable to work until the attack has passed, perhaps up to 24 hours later.

It is estimated that more than a billion pounds is lost every year to the UK economy due to people taking time off work with severe headache or migraine.

Vicious cycle

There are non-prescription painkillers aimed at migraine - most contain a combination of paracetamol and codeine, and these can offer some relief.

However, some patients become caught in a cycle in which they take higher doses of painkillers, which in turn makes the attacks more frequent and powerful.

Some end up with a chronic daily headache, regardless of the dose of painkillers they take, or how often they take them.

The new guidelines will be available to all 36,000 GPs in the UK, and printed up for distribution to a specially-targeted 7,500.

They contain advice on the correct diagnosis of the condition, and on the various treatment options available.

As well as different migraine drugs, this can include physiotherapy, or simply advising patients to change their diet or take their painkillers in a different way.

Changing attitude

Dr Andrew Dowson, Director of the Headache Unit at Kings College Hospital in London, and one of the guideline authors, said that it might mean patients get a more sympathetic hearing from some GPs.

He told BBC News Online: "There are so many hurdles facing patients with headaches before they can receive appropriate treatment.

"About half will never even trouble their GP with the problem, and perhaps will rely too heavily on non-prescription painkillers.

"Others will not get a sympathetic response from the GP, or the GP may not manage their condition properly.

"We hope the guidelines will help doctors understand that headache can be extremely debilitating for people."

This week has been named Migraine Action Week, and the Migraine Action Association has set up an information line to offer advice to people with the condition or their relatives.

It can be reached on 01536 461333.

See also:

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