Headache - Remedies

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How are tension headaches treated?

Tension headaches are painful, and patients may be upset that the diagnosis is "only" a tension headache. Even though it is not life-threatening, a tension headache can make daily activities more difficult to accomplish. Most people successfully treat themselves with over-thecounter (OTC) pain medications to control tension headaches. The following work well for most people:

  • aspirin,
  • ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil),
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol), and
  • naproxen (Aleve).

If these fail, other supportive treatments are available. Recurrent headaches should be a signal to seek medical help. Massage, biofeedback, and stress management can all be used as adjuncts to help with control of tension headaches.

It is important to remember that OTC medications, while safe, are medications and may have side effects and potential interactions with prescription medications. It always is wise to ask a health care professional or pharmacist if one has questions about OTC medications and their use. This is especially important with OTC pain medications, because they are used so frequently.

It is important to read the listing of ingredients in OTC pain medications. Often an OTC medication is a combination of ingredients, and the second or third listed ingredient may have the potential for drug interaction or contraindication based upon a patient's other medical issues For example:

  • Some OTC medications include caffeine, which may trigger rapid heartbeats in some patients.
  • In night time preparations, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be added. This may cause sedation, and driving or using heavy machinery may not be appropriate when taking a sedative medication.

Other examples where caution should be used include the following:

  • Aspirin should not be used in children and teenagers because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome, a life threatening complication that may occur when a viral infection is present and aspirin is taken.
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are irritating to the stomach and may cause intestinal bleeding. They should be used with caution in patients who have peptic ulcer disease or who take blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin), dabigatran (Pradaxa), clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix), and prasugrel (Effient).
  • Overuse of aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen also may cause kidney damage.
  • Acetaminophen, if used in large amounts, can cause liver damage or failure. It should be used with caution in patients who drink significant amounts of alcohol or who have liver disease.
  • One cause of chronic tension headaches is overuse of medications for pain. When pain medications are used for a prolonged period of time, headaches can recur as the effects of the medication wear off (This is classified as a secondary headache when the pain is due to the withdrawal of a medication [rebound headache].).
Return to Headache

See what others are saying

Comment from: Chreeees, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: May 08

I have had migraines for at least the last 10-15 years and I've tried everything. I used to take Imitrex once upon a time. Now I use Excedrin Migraine. It takes 20-30 minutes to usually work. I noticed that my headaches are usually weather related and when the pressure drops, I get a headache. Other remedies are using a cold gel mask that is kept in the fridge over your eyes. Another option is taking a shower, fooling my head into thinking it's raining. Sometimes, I just need some caffeine. For a tension headache, I take Excedrin Tension Headache. One dose usually doesn't work though. Sometimes all you need is fresh air too and an easy day.

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Comment from: Sudlor, 75 or over Female (Patient) Published: October 08

When a migraine first starts I put my feet in hot water, take a couple of ibuprofen and after about 15 minutes my headache is mostly gone. It isn't all gone, but much improved and doesn't last nearly as long. I've had migraines for over 60 years and just found out about this a few years ago.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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