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Ibuprofen better than paracetamol at treating tension headaches

A leading pharmacist has said pharmacists should prescribe ibuprofen over paracetamol for tension headaches

Pharmacy staff should recommend ibuprofen instead of paracetamol for tension headaches, a prominent pharmacist has said.


The "vast majority" of pharmacists did not understand tension headaches, which account for 55 per cent of all headaches and can be caused by muscle overuse or stress, Belfast contractor Terry Maguire said at a Nurofen event on Tuesday (September 16).


Mr Maguire stressed that Ibuprofen had "clear supremacy" in treating these headaches, and pharmacists should not be put off recommending the drug due to fears over side effects. 



Ibuprofen had "clear supremacy" in treating tension headaches and side effects were often over-estimated, said pharmacist Terry Maguire

Pharmacists normally recommended paracetamol because they were trained that ibuprofen should be taken with food to avoid the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers, he said. The summary of product characteristics (SPC) for ibuprofen also contraindicates the drug in asthmatics.



But Mr Maguire pointed out that the risk of an asthma attack from taking ibuprofen was almost "non-existent" and the drug did not need to be taken with food, as a short-term dose did not produce gastric side-effects. "Studies have shown that ibuprofen has clear supremacy in terms of treatment," he told attendees at the event.


A study published in the Lancet last year had linked non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to an increased risk of heart failure, but Mr Maguire stressed that this only applied to high doses taken over a long period and should not affect recommendations for OTC doses of ibuprofen.


Although tension headaches were a "huge burden", they were "trivialised" by many people, said Mr Maguire. Pharmacists could support patients to manage their symptoms and should not be afraid to approach them to get a better understanding of their headache before recommending a treatment, he said.


If pharmacy did this more regularly, conditions could be picked up and managed by the patient before they reached a GP, Mr Maguire added.


An online survey of 2,000 adults conducted in March by Nurofen manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser revealed that 67 per cent experienced a headache once a month or more and 74 per cent wanted to deal with the pain more effectively.


More than half of the respondents said they would be happy for a member of the pharmacy team to approach them with advice on how to treat their headache. 


What do you recommend to patients suffering from a tension headache? 

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3 Comments

Scott Burton, Work for a pharmaceutical company

'The "vast majority" of pharmacists did not understand headaches, which account for 55 per cent of all headaches'

Makes plenty of sense...

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

I despair when recommending OTC medications as there are so many contra indications it is any wonder you would even bother selling them. On the day or two that I work in the community I read the whole pamphlet as I don't want the customer coming back or on the phone. It is easier to prescribe in consulation working in a GPs practice than doing counter sales as you can examine the patient and screen their medical history.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

""Terry Maguire said at a Nurofen event ""

Of course Mr. Maguire. Next time I am in a Calpol event, I'll see what they have to say.

If we all follow his advice with no time the GPhC's FtP panel will have loads of cases for striking off Pharmacists for selling products out of it's license (except for Nurofen for headache)

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