Headache Clinic aims to reduce medication use for patients

The UBC Headache Clinic and Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences have fostered a partnership to process and treat patients more efficiently -- and not just with more pills.

The clinic, which is the first of its kind in Canada and opened in November 2013, aims to relieve patients of their headaches and medical distress before they need to consult a neurologist. With more staff, the recent partnership is also expected to reduce the wait for people who would have perviously been placed on a list to get into the clinic.

People who suffer from frequent headaches and migraines know that on top of the pain they withstand, they must also accept the fact that there is no immediate relief and no predictability on when the pain will come and go.

The UBC Headache Clinic tries to help patients by tending to them faster and providing solutions to decrease the frequency and intensity of their headaches. But rather than prescribing additional medication to patients, the clinic often ends up reducing their intake.

Sian Spacey, a neurologist who sees patients after they attend the clinic, said that many of the people who come in have suffered from chronic headaches for years.

“By the time [the patients] get to the headache clinic they tend to have quite severe headaches and by that time they tend to be taking too much over the counter medications,” said Spacey.

According to Spacey, many of the patients who have chronic headaches take over the counter medication like Tylenol or Advil much more often than they should, as the recommended amount is only 15 days per month.

The role of the pharmacists at the clinic is to look over medication intake for each patient and make proper adjustments. Additionally, the pharmacists go over various other aspects of the patient's life, including sleeping patterns, frequency of physical activity and caffeine and supplement intake, that can help reduce the frequency and the intensity of the patients' headaches.

Spacey also said that it is especially important for students who may be experiencing headaches due to high stress levels and poor health habits to pay attention to what these pharmacists at the clinic are telling their patients.

For those who experience the occasional headache rather than chronic migraines, Spacey suggests trying to make small lifestyle changes before reaching for the Advil or Tylenol.

"We have a few important categories, reduction of over the counter medication, modification of lifestyle, which includes eating and exercising frequently, having a normal sleeping pattern and limiting caffeine intake," said Spacey.

According to Spacey, many of the patients who follow these guidelines after seeing the pharmacist will often find that their headache frequency and intensity has reduced substantially before they visit the neurologist.