Headache Treatment

When it comes to headache remedies, medications and others can help prevent headaches from starting, but they aren’t the only option. Changing your lifestyle to control stress or avoid triggers may work well, too. These tactics may even prevent you from getting headaches. What works for one person may not work for another, so talk to your doctor to figure out the best remedy for you.

Medications for Headaches

Different types of medicine treat different types of headaches.

If you have four or more severe, prolonged migraine headache days each month, your doctor may suggest you try medicine and other things to prevent your attacks. These could include:

Devices to prevent migraines include:

  • Cefaly: This small headband device sends electrical pulses through your forehead to stimulate a nerve linked with migraines
  • SpringTMS or eNeura sTMS: This device gives off a magnetic pulse that stimulates part of your brain. You hold it against the back of your head at the first sign of a headache.
  • gammaCore: This hand-held portable device is also known as a noninvasive vagus nerve stimulator (nVS). When you place it over the vagus nerve in your neck, it sends a mild electrical stimulation to the nerve's fibers to relieve pain.

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Avoid Headache Triggers

If you know the things that trigger your headaches -- such as certain foods, caffeine, alcohol, or noise -- try to avoid them. To learn more about what brings on your attacks, keep a headache diary that includes answers to these questions:

  • When did your headaches first start?
  • How often do you have them?
  • Do you have any symptoms before the headache starts?
  • Where is the pain?
  • How long does it last?
  • At what time of day do the headaches happen?
  • Do you seem to get them after you eat certain types of food?
  • For women, at what time in your monthly cycle do they happen?
  • Are the headaches triggered by something in your environment, such as smells, noise, or some kinds of weather?
  • How would you describe the pain: throbbing, stabbing, blinding, or piercing, for example?

Home Remedies

When a headache hits, try these simple things to help yourself feel better:

  • Use an ice pack on your forehead, scalp, or neck.
  • Take OTC meds like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
  • Get some caffeine.
  • Go to a dark, quiet room.

Alternative Therapies

Other complimentary treatments can bring you relief or even prevent attacks.

  • Osteopathy. Osteopaths can use manipulation and soft tissue techniques on the head, neck, and upper back.
  • Biofeedback and relaxation. Biofeedback helps you control how muscle groups react to stress. This may help prevent or relieve tension headaches.
  • Acupuncture. Studies have shown that this practice of placing thin needles at specific points on the body may help relieve tension and migraine headaches.
  • Mind-body medicine. Hypnosis, deep breathing, visualization, meditation, and yoga may relieve pain by helping you deal with stress. It may be especially helpful for tension headaches. Hypnosis also may lower your perception of pain.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT mixes meditation and relaxation with education in motivation, behavior, and how to handle emotions. With the help of a psychotherapist, you can learn to change negative thoughts and attitudes and the way you respond to stress. Those skills may help you avoid tension-type and migraine headaches.
  • Botulinum toxin. Best known as Botox, a treatment for wrinkles, the FDA has approved it to prevent chronic migraine headaches in adults. If you have a migraine 15 or more days per month, you can get Botox shots in your head and neck about every 3 months.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 12, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Buchholz, D. Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain, Workman Publishing Company, 2002.

Livingstone, I. Breaking the Headache Cycle: A Proven Program for Treating and Preventing Recurring Headaches, Novak Owl Books, 2004.

Smith T. Drugs, 2004.

Young, W. Migraine and other Headaches, Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.

Cady R. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, July 2005.

News release, NuPathe Inc.

News release, FDA.

International Headache Society.

American College of Rheumatology: "NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)."

Hawai’i Journal of Medical and Public Health: “Randomized Controlled Trial: Targeted Neck Cooling in the Treatment of the Migraine Patient.”

American Migraine Foundation: “Acute Therapy: Why Not Over-the-Counter or Other Nonspecific Options?”

National Headache Foundation: “Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches?”

Mayo Clinic: “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”

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