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Cephalalgia. 2010 Mar;30(3):272-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2009.01914.x. Epub 2010 Feb 15.

Sensitisation of spinal cord pain processing in medication overuse headache involves supraspinal pain control.

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University Centre for Adaptive Disorders and Headache, IRCCS C Mondino Institute of Neurology Foundation, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.


Medication overuse could interfere with the activity of critical brain regions involved in the supraspinal control of pain signals at the trigeminal and spinal level, leading to a sensitisation phenomenon responsible for chronic pain. We hypothesised that medication-overuse headache (MOH) patients might display abnormal processing of pain stimuli at the spinal level and defective functioning of the diffuse noxious inhibitory controls. We tested 31 MOH patients before (bWT) and after (aWT) standard inpatient withdrawal treatment, 28 episodic migraine (EM) patients and 23 healthy control subjects. We measured the threshold, the area and the temporal summation threshold (TST) of the nociceptive withdrawal reflex before, during and after activation of the diffuse noxious inhibitory controls by means of the cold pressor test. A significantly lower TST was found in both the MOH (bWT and aWT) and the EM patients compared with the controls, and in the MOH patients bWT compared with both the MOH patients aWT and the EM patients. In the MOH bWT patients the cold pressor test induced a TST increase significantly lower than that found in the MOH aWT, EM and control groups. Abnormal spinal cord pain processing and a decrease of the antinociceptive activity of the supraspinal structures in MOH patients can be hypothesised. These abnormalities could, in part, be related to the medication overuse, given that the withdrawal treatment was related to an improvement in the neurophysiological findings.

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