Fill in the blank: For a headache, you take an . . .

Well, you shouldn't. New research from St. Louis University School of Medicine demonstrates that "analgesic use seems to be the primary factor in promoting the development of chronic pain."Aspirin may be effective in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, but, according to Paul Duckro, associate professor of psychiatry at St. Louis University, "The best thing a person with chronic headache can do is get off the pain-killers. In our studies, two-thirds of the chronic headache sufferers benefited from the withdrawal of medication."

Evidently, at a certain point in a chronic sufferer's intake of analgesics (including aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and the stronger narcotic painkillers), the headache be-comes drug-induced. In an irony of biology, a substance intended to reduce pain becomes a factor in producing it.

"The person takes some aspirin, but the pain increases. So the person takes some more aspirin. Then the person begins to take aspirin in anticipation of the pain, thinking, `If it's this bad when I'm taking medicine, it's going to be unbearable without.' That's a trap people fall into," Duckro said.

"Gradually, the person - and it's more often a woman - gets a headache whenever the medicine is not being taken."

Duckro is director of St. Louis University's Biobehavioral Treatment Center, which has its own headache management program.

"Management is the best solution medicine can offer right now," Duckro said. "We don't have a cure for headaches, because we don't know the cause." Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service