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Study protocol: Brief intervention for medication overuse headache - A double-blinded cluster randomised parallel controlled trial in primary care

Espen Saxhaug Kristoffersen12, Jørund Straand1, Jūratė Saltytė Benth23, Michael Bjørn Russell34 and Christofer Lundqvist2345*

Author Affiliations

1 General Practice Research Unit, Department of General Practice, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

2 HØKH, Research Centre, Akershus University Hospital, Lørenskog, Norway

3 Institute of Clinical Medicine Akershus University Hospital, University of Oslo, Nordbyhagen, Norway

4 Head and Neck Research Group, Research Centre, Akershus University Hospital, Lørenskog, Norway

5 Department of Neurology, Akershus University Hospital, Nordbyhagen, Norway

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:70  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-70

Published: 10 August 2012



Chronic headache (headache ≥ 15 days/month for at least 3 months) affects 2–5% of the general population. Medication overuse contributes to the problem. Medication-overuse headache (MOH) can be identified by using the Severity of Dependence Scale (SDS). A “brief intervention” scheme (BI) has previously been used for detoxification from drug and alcohol overuse in other settings. Short, unstructured, individualised simple information may also be enough to detoxify a large portion of those with MOH. We have adapted the structured (BI) scheme to be used for MOH in primary care.


A double-blinded cluster randomised parallel controlled trial (RCT) of BI vs. business as usual. Intervention will be performed in primary care by GPs trained in BI. Patients with MOH will be identified through a simple screening questionnaire sent to patients on the GPs lists. The BI method involves an approach for identifying patients with high likelihood of MOH using simple questions about headache frequency and the SDS score. Feedback is given to the individual patient on his/her score and consequences this might have regarding the individual risk of medication overuse contributing to their headache. Finally, advice is given regarding measures to be taken, how the patient should proceed and the possible gains for the patient. The participating patients complete a headache diary and receive a clinical interview and neurological examination by a GP experienced in headache diagnostics three months after the intervention. Primary outcomes are number of headache days and number of medication days per month at 3 months. Secondary outcomes include proportions with 25 and 50% improvement at 3 months and maintenance of improvement and quality of life after 12 months.


There is a need for evidence-based and cost-effective strategies for treatment of MOH but so far no consensus has been reached regarding an optimal medication withdrawal method. To our knowledge this is the first RCT of structured non-pharmacological MOH treatment in primary care. Results may hold the potential of offering an instrument for treating MOH patients in the general population by GPs.

Trial registration identifier: NCT01314768

Medication-overuse headache; Chronic headache; Chronic tension-type headache; Migraine; Brief intervention; General practice; Primary care; Cluster randomised controlled trial