Blood Pressure Drugs Prevent Some Headaches

Finding adds to research that hypertension may contribute to headache

MONDAY, Oct. 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Blood pressure-lowering drugs also prevent some headaches, British researchers report.

For their review, the researchers looked at studies in which patients were taking drugs to lower their blood pressure, and also reported whether or not they had headaches. The researchers found that one-third fewer people reported headaches while taking blood-pressure-lowering drugs than did people taking a placebo.

"We show that a blood pressure-lowering drug seems to prevent headaches," said study author Malcolm Law, a professor of epidemiology at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine of Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London. "They seem to prevent about a third of headaches."

The findings appear in the Oct. 11 issue of Circulation.

In the study, Law's group looked at 94 trials that included 17,641 people taking drugs to lower their blood pressure, or a placebo. Drugs included diuretics, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers.

The researchers found that 8 percent of the people taking a blood pressure drug reported having headaches, compared with 12 percent of the people who received a placebo. In addition, the prevalence of headaches was significantly reduced, no matter which drug the patients received.

"It's basically a curiosity," Law said. "It's been going on for 100 years -- high blood pressure-hypertension headache as it was called."

Law was careful to note that such drugs should not be taken to reduce the number of headaches one might have. "We are not saying that doctors use blood pressure-lowering drugs to treat headaches," he said. "There isn't a strong clinical implication [from this study] that some people assume there must be. It's a curiosity."

One expert believes that headache is a sign of severe high blood pressure.

"This is an observation that has been made for years," said Dr. Vasilios Papademetriou, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University. "It was a minor point that has been made in several publications."

"We see headache frequently in patients who have a systolic blood pressure of 200 mmHg or more. It is less common with milder forms of hypertension," he added.

Recent studies have found that angiotensin II receptor blockers prevent 40 percent to 50 percent of headaches, Papademetriou said. "Perhaps because these drugs are totally side-effect free, a patient feels so much better he reports a lack of headaches," he said.

Papademetriou thinks this observation is significant. "It's another important reason to be aggressive in treating as many patients with hypertension as we can," he said.

Patients who have frequent headaches should have their blood pressure checked, Papademetriou advised. "Many patients can have fewer headaches if they keep their blood pressure under control."

Another expert thinks the new findings may encourage people to keep taking their blood pressure medications.

"There are many other important reasons for people to control their blood pressure, but we know that many people do not adhere to their medical regimen," said Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, a professor of cardiology at Yale University Medical School. "This information might give some people a practical reason to take their medications regularly."

More information

The American Heart Association can tell you more about high blood pressure.

SOURCES: Malcolm Law, F.R.C.P., professor, epidemiology, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London, England; Vasilios Papademetriou, M.D., professor, medicine, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., professor, cardiology, Yale University Medical School, New Haven, Conn.; Oct. 11, 2005, Circulation
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