Tension Headaches - Treatment Overview
You can treat most tension headaches with:
- Over-the-counter pain
- Prescription drugs if you have
chronic or very bad headaches.
- Avoiding things that trigger your headaches.
- Meditation and other ways to lower your
Over-the-counter medicines to stop
Medicines can help you feel better. But they can also be dangerous, especially if you don't take them the right way. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Try these drugs first. Most doctors recommend that you try over-the-counter drugs first
if you have mild to moderate headaches. They may have fewer side effects than
prescription drugs. These medicines include:
- Acetaminophen, such as
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin (for example, Bayer) and
ibuprofen (for example, Motrin).
- Medicine that combines aspirin, acetaminophen, and
caffeine, such as Excedrin.
- Don't take this medicine too often. Try not to take over-the-counter drugs more than 3 times a week,
because you may get
rebound headaches. These are different from tension
headaches. They are usually triggered after pain medicine has worn off,
prompting you to take another dose. After a while, you get a headache whenever
you stop taking the medicine.
Prescription medicines to stop
In some cases, your doctor may
prescribe stronger medicine if over-the-counter drugs don't stop your
headaches. These medicines may include
narcotics. But these drugs can be
habit-forming, so they should be used rarely and only for a short
Prescription medicines to prevent
You may want to try medicine to prevent a headache
- You are using medicines to stop headaches
more than 3 times a week.
- Medicines to stop headaches aren't
working well for you.
Your doctor may have you try one or more
medicines, such as an antidepressant or a medicine that prevents seizures.
These medicines can help prevent headaches even if you don't have
You may be
able to prevent or reduce tension headaches by learning what causes your
headaches and trying to avoid those
triggers. For more information, see
Living With Tension Headaches.
you think can affect how you feel. So finding ways to relax and stop negative thoughts may help prevent headaches.
You may want to try:
- Techniques to stop negative thoughts.
- Progressive muscle relaxation.
- Ways to
manage your time.
- Breathing exercises.
For more information, see
Living With Tension Headaches.
Treatment if headaches get worse
If you continue to have
tension headaches while you are getting treatment, you
and your doctor may want to try another treatment.
may have to try different drugs or doses.
If you have already tried several medicines, your doctor may order
tests (such as an
CT scan) to find out if a health problem is
causing your headaches.
Other things to think about
- Even with treatment, you will most likely
still get some tension headaches. But you
probably will get them less often. And they may hurt less when you do get
- If you also have
anxiety, talk to your doctor. Treatment for these
health problems also may help you have fewer headaches.