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Headaches have a variety of causes, but most can be alleviated with over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. In some extreme cases, when this condition is quite severe or if it has not responded to other treatments, a medical professional may prescribe oxycodone. Oxycodone is an opiate painkiller that is potent, but carries its own risks of dependence and tolerance, which is why it is not often prescribed for this particular medical condition.
One study measured the effectiveness of oxycodone for headaches versus other opiate painkillers. The study found that 36% of the individuals with refractive chronic headaches that didn't respond to other medication had complete relief of headaches after six months of taking oxycodone. Individuals in the study with the same condition who took morphine or methadone for their pain experienced complete relief in 50% of the cases. This study suggests that, while oxycodone can help alleviate headache pain, it is not always as effective as similar opiate medications.
Healthcare professionals may sometimes prescribe this medication for headaches that arise from migraines. These headaches are usually first treated with medications such as triptans, as well as other compounds. Rarely, migraine headaches cannot be treated by those medications, however. In such cases, medical professionals will prescribe an opiate painkiller like oxycodone to control the pain, and another antihistamine medication to reduce the nausea that often accompanies migraines, since oxycodone does not alleviate this symptom.
Oxycodone is often available in a preparation combined with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or acetaminophen. Combinations like this can be particularly effective against severe headaches, since oxycodone relieves pain, but not swelling, but the acetaminophen can reduce swelling that may be causing the headache. Medical professionals tend to favor prescribing oxycodone for headaches combined with acetaminophen for this reason.
Like any medication, taking oxycodone is not without risk. People taking this medication may develop a physical dependency on it or take more than directed. Tolerance, or requiring more of the medication to receive the same relief, is also a major factor. In one study, almost two-thirds of individuals receiving oxycodone for severe headaches experienced some tolerance after six months of taking the medication on a daily basis.
Even when taken as directed, oxycodone can still cause side effects when used for headaches. Some people experience nausea or headaches from drug itself, so these individuals should not use this medication to treat migraines or other headaches. Vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness can all occur from taking this medication, as well.