There are different kinds of headaches. Most people get tension headaches. When you have a tension headache, you may feel a constant ache, tightness, and pressure around your forehead, temples, or the back of your head and neck. It may feel like your head is in a vise.
Tension headaches usually cause mild to moderate pain. Most of the time, they aren't bad enough to stop you from doing your daily tasks. But some people have very bad headaches that last a long time. These headaches can disrupt your life.
Tension headaches tend to come back, especially when you're under stress. They can last from 30 minutes to several days.
If you have tension headaches for 15 days or more a month for 3 months, you may have chronic tension headaches. Some people who have chronic headaches also have anxiety and depression.
The cause of tension headaches is not clear. Doctors used to think that these headaches were caused by tension or spasms in the muscles of the neck, face, jaw, or head. Now they think that a change in brain chemicals may also cause these headaches.
First try over-the-counter pain medicines to manage your headaches. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Nonprescription medicines for headaches include:
If the nonprescription medicines above don't work to stop your headaches, or if you take them more than 3 times a week or have a headache more than 15 days a month, your doctor may recommend you take a prescription medicine every day to help prevent headaches.
Your doctor may also suggest ways to reduce stress and anxiety as a way to manage your headaches.
Your doctor may have you try one of more of the following medicines to help prevent your headaches:
Often the best way to treat chronic tension headaches is to use medicine along with treatments that reduce stress and anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Even with treatment, you may still get some tension headaches. But studies have shown that:
You'll need to take medicine every day, even when you don't have a headache.
If you don't feel better after a few weeks of taking the medicine, talk to your doctor. You may need to try several different medicines to find one that works for you.
The medicine can cause side effects. Some of these side effects may last for a few weeks or for as long as you take the medicine. You may need to decide which bothers you more, the side effects of the medicine or your headaches.
Common side effects include:
Serious side effects can also happen. When taken during pregnancy, anticonvulsants can cause birth defects.
Some people find other ways to manage headaches besides taking medicine. These include:
Here are some things you can do at home:
Your doctor may advise you to take prescription medicine if:
|Take prescription medicine to help prevent tension headaches||Don't take prescription medicine to help prevent your headaches|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"My job requires me to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, and my eyes are sore at the end of most days. I also have a lot of stress in my life right now. I am getting frequent tension headaches, but an aspirin usually relieves the pain. I'm keeping a headache diary to see how often I get these headaches. I am going to try putting a filter on my computer screen and taking frequent breaks. I've also signed up for a yoga class to help me relax. If I continue to have tension headaches, I will take my headache diary to my doctor and see if I need stronger medicines."
— Joyce, age 34
"Recently I've been getting tension headaches almost daily. I take naproxen and sometimes aspirin whenever I get a headache. My headaches go away for awhile but then come back within a couple of hours after I take these pain relievers. My doctor said I might be getting rebound headaches from taking too many pain relievers. She thinks I should try taking prescription medicine every day to prevent my headaches. I think I will take her advice and see if I can get these headaches under control."
— John, age 45
"I have had a lot of changes in my life recently. I started getting headaches around the time we moved to a new town. My mom thinks they are related to stress and will go away when I feel comfortable at my new home and school. Sometimes I need to take an ibuprofen for the headache, but not always. I am learning how to do relaxation exercises at a class I'm taking, and this seems to help. My parents talked about it and decided to wait for a month to see if the headaches go away before taking me to the doctor."
— Leslie, age 14
"I have been getting tension headaches for more than 7 months. I decided to start keeping a diary of how often I get them to try to identify any triggers. So far, it looks like I get headaches around 20 days out of every month, but I'm not sure why. While I don't miss a lot of time away from work, I do think my productivity is suffering. I've tried biofeedback to see if I could reduce stress, but that hasn't helped. My doctor thinks it is time for me to try an antidepressant to prevent tension headaches from occurring. I think I'll give that a try."
— Jennifer, age 35
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to take prescription medicine for tension headaches
Reasons not to take prescription medicine for tension headaches
I'm willing to take medicine every day, because I think it will help ease my tension headaches.
I want to take medicine only when I have a headache.
I don't think the side effects of the medicine could be as bad as my tension headaches.
I think the side effects of the medicine would bother me more than my headaches.
My tension headaches are affecting my work and relationships with friends and family.
My tension headaches aren't really affecting my work and relationships with friends and family.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Taking prescription medicine for tension headaches
NOT taking prescription medicine for tension headaches
1. If I only get tension headaches every now and then, and if they don't bother me too much, I should take prescription medicine every day to treat them.
2. I may still get tension headaches, even though I'm taking medicine to prevent them.
3. If I don't want to take medicine to treat my tension headaches, I can try other kinds of treatment that may help me feel better.
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine|