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Get Those Yom Kippur Headaches? Researchers Find a New Solution

September 28, 2006
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Tired of getting that headache that seems inevitably to set in somewhere around midday every Yom Kippur? Dr. Michael Drescher, the associate chief of emergency medicine at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, thinks he might have a cure — Vioxx.

This fall, the medical journal Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain will publish the results of a study Drescher conducted in Israel two years ago that show that the now-banned pain reliever could actually prevent the phenomenon known as the Yom Kippur headache.

The headaches associated with the 25-hour fast on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar have been fairly well-studied. The National Institute of Health reported on its Web site that about 39 percent of the fasting population gets headaches.

Drescher says that the most likely causes for the pains in the head are due to fasting, dehydration, withdrawal from caffeine, or hypoglycemia. Researchers from Tel Aviv University reported in 1999 that the most likely cause for the headache is lack of food, not lack of water, according to

In 2004, Drescher and then-medical student Yoni Elstein conducted a study at Israel’s Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Before Yom Kippur started that year, they took a test group of 100 people between the ages of 18 and 65, all of whom had experienced Yom Kippur headaches in the past.

They gave 50 members of the group a placebo, and the other 50 Rofecoxib — the clinical name for Vioxx. Of the 50 who received the placebo, 60 percent got headaches during the fast, while only 18 percent of those who took the Vioxx came down with headaches.

The only snag is that two days after Drescher completed his study, the makers of Vioxx, Merck & Co., Inc, pulled the pill off store shelves because it was found to cause an increased risk for heart attacks and stroke.

Drescher is not suggesting that anyone go out to find black market suppliers of the now banned drug.

Celebrex may work just as well as Vioxx, he says, though it is not as long-lasting a pain reliever. And, he says, anyone interested in taking the drug should consult a physician first.

The remedy, says Drescher, also works for the Yom Kippur fast’s Muslim counterpart — the Fast of Ramadan headache.

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