Headache Medicine

Headache pain can interfere with your life and make it difficult to go about your day. But you can get headache relief. A variety of headache medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, can provide effective headache treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best medicine for your needs.

Headache education

  • Educate yourself and your family about the type of headache you have and the treatment options.
  • Maintain a headache diary to figure out headache patterns and triggers.
  • Ask your provider for written instructions on what to do when a headache strikes.
  • Call your provider when problems arise.

Lifestyle changes

  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water a day.
  • Identify and avoid headache triggers. These may include caffeinated foods and beverages, as well as many types of chips and other “junk” food. They may also include chemicals known as nitrates (found in deli meats, sausage, hot dogs, and pepperoni) and tyramine (in aged cheeses and pizza).

Are off-label drugs safe?

Off-label prescribing is a common and legal practice in medicine. It’s also one of the ways researchers find new uses for existing, approved drugs. In many cases, it can lead to new clinical trials.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any medications.

How can I use headache medications safely?

Follow your provider’s instructions when it comes to taking any medication. Your provider will likely recommend that you:

  • Start with pain medications least likely to form addictive habits.
  • Avoid narcotic analgesics if possible.
  • Begin with the lowest strength dose.
  • Use caution with higher doses and stronger medications.
  • Try to avoid frequent use. The more often you take medicine, the greater the chance it becomes harmful and less effective.

What should I know about OTC pain relievers?

Nonprescription medications, also called OTC drugs, are safe when used as directed. Keep these precautions in mind:

  • Read the label: Know the active ingredient in the medicine.
  • Watch the dose: Make sure you don’t take more than the recommended dosage for your age.
  • Avoid overmedicating: Consider how you use pain relievers and other medications.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider: Discuss any medications with your provider, especially before taking products with aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium.
  • Take care with medication for children: Don’t give children medication with aspirin or caffeine. Aspirin may lead to Reye’s syndrome.
  • Avoid combinations: Don’t combine medications that contain caffeine, barbiturates, and narcotics.


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