Side Effects and Risks of Taking Oxycodone for Headaches

Causes of Headache from Oxycodone and Why You Need to Be Cautious

Oxycodone pills.
Oxycodone pills. Credit: GIPhotoStock/Getty Images

Oxycodone is a short-acting opiod, or narcotic, that is sometimes prescribed for migraine relief. Let's learn more about oxycodone, including how it's administered, the serious risks associated with it, and potential side effects.

How is Oxycodone Administered?

Oxycodone can be administered alone (e.g., Oxy IR), in combination with aspirin (e.g., Percordan), or in combination with acetaminophen (e.g., Percocet).

What are the Risks Associated with Taking Oxycodone?

As with any opiod, there is a very serious risk of developing dependence and tolerance to oxycodone. When oxycodone is used for a long time or in large doses, it may become habit-forming causing mental or physical dependence. Physical dependence may lead to withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medication. Tolerance occurs when oxycodone is used for a long time that your body gets used to it — so larger amounts are needed to relieve pain.

Addiction to oxycodone may also occur and is a very serious health condition that requires intensive intervention by a healthcare team.

In addition, there is a risk of developing medication overuse headache with oxycodone — this means that a person may develop an oxycodone-induced headache or rebound headache from using it too frequently. This type of headache can resemble that of a migraine or tension headache.

Restricting oxycodone to two or less days per week will help a person avoid a medication overuse headache.

Finally, there is a risk of overdosing with oxycodone, which can cause a slowed heart rate, sedation and coma, and heart rhythm abnormalities.

What are the Potential Side Effects of Oxycodone?

There are a number of possible side effects — and you should speak with your doctor and read the label of your medication to be knowledgeable of them.

According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Opiod Management, 600 people taking oxycodone responded to a survey on side effects — and the majority reported that they were bothered by the side effects and that it affected their quality of life. The main side effects reported were:

With the drowsiness and dizziness, a person should be extremely cautious when driving, operating heavy machinery, working at heights, or doing anything else that could be dangerous.

Another possible side effect of oxycodone is dryness of the mouth. For temporary relief of this, you can use sugarless candy or gum, melt bits of ice in your mouth, or use a saliva substitute. However, if dry mouth continues for more than 2 weeks, check with your dentist. Persistent dryness of the mouth may increase the chance of dental disease.

Other possible side effects include sleep problems, a lowered rate of breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, mood changes, impaired kidney function, seizures, cough suppression, pupil constriction, truncal rigidity (stiffness of trunk), impairment in body temperature, weakened immune system, and reduction in androgen and estrogen levels.

What Other Precautions Should I Take on Oxycodone?

Oxycodone will add to the effects of alcohol and other CNS depressants —medications that slow down the nervous system — and should not be taken with them. Examples of CNS depressants include:

  • antihistamines
  • sedatives, tranquilizers, or sleeping medication
  • other prescription pain medication or narcotics
  • barbiturates
  • medication for seizures
  • muscle relaxants
  • anesthetics, including some dental anesthetics.

Sometimes oxycodone is combined with acetaminophen (e.g., Percocet). Be cautious of other medications that contain Tylenol (acetaminophen), as too high of a dose can lead to liver damage.

Overall, it's important to inform your doctor of all medications, over-the-counter supplements, and vitamins before taking oxycodone, as well as any other health conditions, to be sure it is safe and appropriate for you.

What Does This Mean for Me?

If your doctor prescribes you oxycodone for your migraine relief, it's critical you are aware of not only the potential side effects, but the very serious risks of becoming physically and psychologically dependent on it and eventually addicted. Oxycodone is a powerful medication and really should be avoided if possible.

That being said, oxycodone can be useful for treating acute migraine pain, especially in people who cannot take other medications or are receiving no benefit from traditional migraine therapies. Regardless, it should not be used for chronic migraine management.

If you are prescribed oxycodone, be sure to take it as prescribed and have the prescription last the duration that it was prescribed. Also, do not share your medication with anyone else and do not tamper with or misuse the medication — by chewing or crushing — it as this can be life-threatening.

Sources:

American Headache Society. (2007). Headache Toolbox: Opiod Therapy for Migraine. Retrieved December 1st 2015.

Anastassopoulos KP. Oxycodone-related side effects: impact on degree of bother, adherence, pain relief, satisfaction, and quality of life. J Opiod Manag. 2011 May-Jun;7(3):203-15

Berling I, Whyte IM, & Isbister GK. Oxycodone overdose causes naloxone responsive coma and QT prolongation. QJM. 2013 Jan;106(1):35-41.

Gudin J, Levy-Cooperman N, Kopecky EA, Fleming AB. Comparing the Effect of Tampering on the Oral Pharmacokinetic Profiles of Two Extended-Release Oxycodone Formulations with Abuse-Deterrent Properties. Pain Med. 2015 Jun 22. [Epub ahead of print].

Levin M. Opiods in headache. Headache. 2014 Jan;54(1):12-21.

Material on this page is for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult your physician regarding medications.

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