According to research conducted at the University of Adelaide, codeine may actually be hurting chronic pain sufferers, such as those with migraines and other headaches, more than it helps. As a weak opioid, it combines poor pain relief with increased pain sensitivity.
When people with chronic pain take painkillers on a regular basis, they get what are known as “rebound headaches,” or “medication overuse headaches.” These headaches are caused when routine use of pain medications results in a reprogramming of the body’s pain system. This causes you to feel pain even when there’s no actual circumstance or even causing your pain. It’s similar to withdrawal, but it’s a different effect known as hyperalgesia, or increased pain sensitivity. The following medications all carry significant risk for causing rebound headaches:
- Aspirin and paracetamol
- Migraine medications such as ergotamine and triptans
Combinations of painkillers can make the effects even worse. Caffeine can also contribute to rebound headaches.
Another problem specific to opiates like codeine and morphine is opioid tolerance. In opioid tolerance, the body’s opiate receptors become less sensitive, which means that you need more and more of the drug to get the same effect.
What Makes Codeine Even Worse
Codeine is a commonly prescribed opiate for chronic pain because it is considered to have a relatively low addiction risk. That’s because codeine is what some doctors describe as a Trojan horse drug. Although you are taking codeine, the pain reliever effect depends on your body converting the codeine to morphine. This occurs for about 10% of the codeine dose, so the pain relief you get is essentially the same as taking a tenth as much morphine.
However, as the researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered, codeine produces the same amount of hyperalgesia as morphine. The imbalance between less pain relief combined with the same level of increased pain sensitivity may make codeine a losing bargain for anyone with chronic pain, including chronic headaches.
Treating Chronic Headaches without Medication
To avoid rebound headaches, hyperalgesia, and opioid tolerance, you should try to find ways of reducing or eliminating your chronic pain without medication.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD), is an underdiagnosed condition that can contribute to frequent headaches, including migraines. TMJ treatment has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of chronic headaches, without medication.
To learn whether TMJ treatment can help you, please contact My Hills Dentist in Baulkham Hills, NSW today for an appointment.