Observant pharmacists can spot med-induced headache sufferers

Observant pharmacists are capable of spotting patients who may be suffering from medication-induced headache – often a result of self-medication with over-the-counter drugs.  Dr. Christopher Turner (B.Pharm. PhD) an associate professor of clinical pharmacy in the school of pharmacy at Memorial University in St. John’s sought help in identifying these patients from all the pharmacists in the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland an area where about 250000 people live.  At a poster presentation here at the Congress of the International Headache Society Dr. Turner said the response was about what he expected – one-third of the pharmacists simply ignored his request another third considered it but didn’t participate and the rest were willing partners in the study. Overall Dr. Turner said he enlisted 46 pharmacists in the 18-week project “to improve the health outcomes of medically-induced headache sufferers.  “We assessed the ability of community pharmacists to identify subjects with signs and symptoms consistent with medically-induced headache and for the pharmacists to encourage these patients to seek medical help.”

Of 142 patients contacted by pharmacists 11 people were found to be suffering from medically-induced headache – a syndrome which was considered to be a rare disorder.   Headache medications   Dr. Turner said he believes that vigilant pharmacists could identify many more such patients simply by watching which customers seemed to be purchasing heavy amounts of over-the-counter headache medications.  If a pharmacist was able to identify someone who fit the profile of suffering medically-induced headache the pharmacist provided information about the disorder and invited each subject to contact a study nurse. The nurse supervised the completion of headache questionnaires and advised the subjects to see their family physicians.  The subjects were re-interviewed three months later. Of the 142 subjects who were approached by the pharmacists 21 contacted the nurse and 17 completed the questionnaires. Eleven were classified as suffering from medically-induced headaches.  The patients following counselling and treatment reported significantly fewer headaches and significantly less consumption of analgesics Dr. Turner said.  A one-week outpatient treatment program with proper medication can overcome medically-induced headache Dr. Turner said. He said the study showed that “community pharmacists were effective in initiating events which led to improved health outcomes for medically-induced headache sufferers.”

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