Headaches: Managing a Headache

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Introduction

You can reduce how many headaches you get and how bad they are when you do get them. Try to:

  • Find and avoid triggers that cause your headaches.
  • Carry your medicine with you so you can treat a headache right away when you feel one starting. This is especially important if you get migraines.
  • Don't take over-the-counter pain relievers more than 3 times a week, because you may get rebound headaches. These headaches usually occur after pain medicine has worn off. This prompts you to take another dose. After a while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking the medicine.
  • Take drugs that cause the fewest side effects, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (for example, aspirin and ibuprofen).
  • Exercise regularly, eat well, and reduce stress.
  • Work with your doctor to find the best treatment for your headaches.

How do you manage a headache?

Stopping headaches

You can try several things to stop a headache after it starts:

  • Stop what you are doing, and begin treatment. Don't wait for the headache to get worse.
  • Apply a cold, moist cloth or ice pack to your forehead and temples.
  • Rest in a quiet, comfortable, dark room.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Begin stress-relief methods as soon as your headache starts.
  • Have a massage to relax tense muscles in your head, neck, temples, face, or jaw.

Preventing headaches

You can do things every day to help prevent headaches:

  • Find and avoid your headache triggers by using a headache diary(What is a PDF document?).
  • Sit and stand with good posture to avoid muscle tension.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Get regular sleep, eat healthy foods at regular times, avoid alcohol and drugs, and avoid foods that may trigger your headaches.
  • Don't get too tired from hard physical activity.
  • Don't take over-the-counter pain relievers more than 3 times a week, because you may get rebound headaches.
  • Try to reduce stress and headache pain with one or more of these treatments:

Preventing migraines

Other treatments that may help prevent migraines include:footnote 3

  • Feverfew. This is an herb that—some small studies show—may help prevent migraines in some people.
  • Magnesium. Studies have found that some people with migraines have low levels of magnesium in the brain. Taking magnesium may help prevent migraines.
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2). This vitamin may help prevent migraines.
  • Coenzyme Q10. This supplement worked to reduce the number of migraines some people had in a small study.

References

Citations

  1. Linde K, et al. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (3). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub3. Accessed July 22, 2016.
  2. Haghighi AB, et al. (2010). Cutaneous application of menthol 10% solution as an abortive treatment of migraine without aura: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossed-over study. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 64(4): 451–456.
  3. Holland S, et al. (2012). Evidence-based guideline update: NSAIDs and other complementary treatments for episodic migraine prevention in adults: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Neurology, 78(17): 1346–1353.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofOctober 14, 2016