OTC Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers (cont.)

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What are the types of headaches?

Headaches are the most common reason that pain medications (analgesics) are taken. Headaches can be classified into three types:

  1. muscle contraction,
  2. migraine or vascular, and
  3. sinus.

Muscle contraction headache

A muscle contraction headache, the most common type, results from the continuous tightening of the muscles in the upper back, neck, or scalp. This type of headache often is described as a tight, pressing, or throbbing sensation of the head. It can be brought on by emotional stress and anxiety ("tension headaches"). Acute muscle contraction headaches generally respond well to OTC analgesics, but chronic muscle contraction headaches can require physical therapy or relaxation techniques.

Migraine or vascular headaches

Migraine or vascular headaches are due to dilation (widening) of blood vessels in the head. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience migraine headaches. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. Before puberty, boys are affected more than girls by migraine headaches. However, as a child nears adolescence, girls are affected more than boys. An estimated 6% of men and up to 18% of women will experience a migraine headache. Although many patients use the expression "migraine" to describe any particularly painful headache, many of these are actually muscle contraction headaches. OTC medications for pain may be quite effective for treating migraine headaches. However, prescription medications that are specifically formulated for treating or preventing migraines are often necessary.

Sinus headache

A sinus headache is caused by inflammation or an infection or blockage of one or more sinuses. The pain often is limited to the area around the eyes or the forehead. The pain may occur upon awakening, and may decrease in intensity after the person stands or sits up for a period of time. In addition to analgesics, OTC decongestants can be effective to help drain the sinuses.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/9/2015

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