Study Links Smartphone Use to Greater Need for Medication Among People With Headache

Using a smartphone was associated with higher usage of acute medication, but less relief, in individuals with new-onset headache or increased severity of headache.

Individuals with headache who use smartphones may be more likely to use more pain medication and find less relief than those who do not use smartphones, reported a study investigating the association of smartphone use with occurrence of new-onset headache.

The study, published by Neurology Clinical Practice, involved 400 patients who were categorized in 2 groups: smartphone users (SUs) and non-smartphone users (NSUs).1 The researchers administered a questionnaire that assessed the participants’ headache characteristics and treatment taken.

Of the 400 patients, 194 were NSUs and 206 were SUs. According to the results, the NSUs were older and had lower education level and lower socioeconomic status. Additionally, the SUs were more likely to take pain-relieving drugs for their headaches than non-users, with 96% of smartphone users taking drugs while 81% of non-users did.

Headache characteristics were similar in both groups, except for the higher occurence of aura in the NSU group compared with the SU group (15

[7.7%] compared with 36 [17.5%]; P = .003)

"While these results need to be confirmed with larger and more rigorous studies, the findings are concerning, as smartphone use is growing rapidly and has been linked to a number of symptoms, with headache being the most common," study author Deepti Vibha, DM, of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a statement.

The study also evaluated pill count, finding that smartphone users took an average of 8 pills per month compared with non-users who took an average of 5 pills per month, according to the results.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Heidi Moawad, MD, and Elaine Jones, MD, suggested that in order to reduce the association of medication use, patient dependence on mobile internet devices must change.2 "Is it reasonable to expect a patient with headache to cut back on smartphone use if the alternative is feeling disconnected and inefficient?" they asked. Certain features, such as hands-free settings, voice activation, and audio functions could help alleviate some of these possible effects of phone use. But more research is needed to find potential solutions.


1. Uttarwar P, Vibha D, Prasad K, et al. Smartphone use and primary headache: A cross-sectional hospital-based study [published online March 4, 2020]. Neurol Clin Pract. doi:10.1212/CPJ.0000000000000816.

2. Moawad H, Jones E. Smartphone use and headaches: Are we ready to accept a link? [published online March 4, 2020]. Neurol Clin Pract.