How to Manage Headaches
Pain in the
head region is called a headache. There are hundreds of different kinds
of headaches, depending on where the pain is located, what the
pain is like, and the course of the headache. The most common kind of headaches
are tension headaches. Other types of headache include sinus,
menstrual, cluster, and migraine. Treatment for headache can vary and some
types of headaches respond better to certain treatments. See your doctor if you
experience headaches to make sure there is no underlying medical cause.
Depending on the kind of headache you have, they may also be able to recommend
one treatment over another.
Treating Headache with Medication
Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and
aspirin can relieve pain associated with tension headaches. They may also
lessen the severity of migraine headaches.
medications are usually recommended for migraines or cluster headaches. Triptans were the first category of
drugs specifically developed to target migraines. These drugs include
sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig). They might be used as
preventive medications or to treat symptoms. Talk with your doctor about which
medications may be best for your headaches.
Drugs that contain ergotamine (ergots) constrict smooth muscle, such as
that found in larger arterial blood vessels. When blood vessels constrict, this
can help reduce migraine pain. Although widely available for a long time in
numerous forms (oral, injectable, intra-nasal, and rectal), these drugs aren’t
as widely used as triptans. Triptans are more effective in most cases.
If your doctor prescribes medication for your headaches, tell them about
any other medications or supplements you are taking to avoid any adverse
Behavioral Treatments for Headache
Medication is not always necessary for headache relief, especially if
the headaches are caused by tension. Techniques that have been shown to reduce
headache pain include:
- relaxation training
- lying down in a dark and quiet room
- hot or cold compresses on the head and neck
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be beneficial for some
patients. CBT is a kind of talk therapy that enables patients to identify and
deal with stressors. Stress management techniques, reframing situations and
symptoms, and changing dysfunctional thought patterns are all part of
Lifestyle Changes to Treat Headache
Changing your diet can affect your headaches. Some individuals with
migraines are triggered by foods. Trigger foods include:
- those high in monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- lunchmeats containing nitrates
- red wine (which can contain two often implicated chemicals: tannins and
If you are unsure whether any foods trigger your headaches, keep a
headache diary. Note any headaches that follow ingestion of certain foods.
Make sure you are eating regularly. Skipping meals can cause low blood
sugar and headaches.
Stay physically active. If your headaches are caused by stress, physical
activity can help. Before starting any exercise routine, check with your doctor
to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for you to do so.
Complementary Treatment for Headaches
Some individuals find that complementary or alternative treatments are
effective in relieving headache pain. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice
that has gained popularity in Western cultures.
Acupuncture therapists use thin needles inserted into particular areas
of the skin. Although not fully understood, this process releases chemicals in
the body that may have beneficial effects on numerous conditions, including headaches.
Certainly, there has been ample anecdotal reports that acupuncture has been
beneficial for headache in some individuals. An analysis published in the Cochrane Database of
Systematic Reviews (CDSR) reported that acupuncture could be a
valuable non-pharmacological tool in for people with frequent tension-type
Several herbs and supplements that claim help with headaches inlcude:
- vitamin B2
- magnesium supplements
- fish oil
Before using any of these treatments, ask your doctor if it is safe to
do so, given your health history and any other medications you are on.