What Otc And Prescription Medications Treat Pain And Manage Tension Headaches
Many people treat tension headache on their own, using OTC medications like acetaminophen , ibuprofen , or combination medications containing acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine . While these medications can be effective and when taken as directed are safe for most people, overuse can lead to headaches which are more frequent and severe. This can occur if these agents are used more than 2 days each week routinely. If tension headache occurs during pregnancy, the patient should contact her physician about medications that are safe to use.
- Products which contain aspirin should not be given to children due to the risk of Reyes syndrome.
- Chronic use of acetaminophen, or use of acetaminophen in large amounts may lead to liver toxicity , and a number of medications are combined with acetaminophen so patients should discuss all OTC drugs they are taking with their doctors.
If a diagnosis of chronic tension headache is made or suspected, prescription medications may be used in an effort to lessen the frequency and decrease the severity of the headaches. Medications used include antidepressants and antiseizure drugs. A doctor can help determine which medicine is best for you.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Think about your priorities, and write them down as two lists, marked Life and Now. What are the most important things on your list? What can you eliminate? Remember whats really important as you schedule your time and prioritize actions. Being always on the go, focused on tasks that dont make you happy is not the best option for leading a low-stress life.
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How Common Are Tension Headaches
People dont always see their doctor for a tension headache, which makes exact numbers hard to predict. Researchers estimate that as many as 2 in 3 adults in the U.S. get tension headaches.
Chronic tension headaches are much less common. They affect an estimated 3% of adults. Women get tension headaches more often than men.
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Clock Your Cocktail And Caffeine
Ending busy days with wine or dealing with your new high-powered promotion by tripling your coffee consumption? Both habits can cause headaches since these beverages are dehydrating and interfere with sleep. In the case of alcohol those who are prone to migraines may be more sensitive to alcohol-related headaches, too. Excess daily caffeine can also cause headaches since it triggers a withdrawal response in the body when you’re not drinking it. This also happens when you combine caffeine and pain relievers if you already have a headache, leading to what’s known as a rebound headache.
What Is A ‘stress’ Headache And How Can You Treat It
It’s the most common type of headache you can getbut the term “stress” headache isn’t entirely accurate.
Right now, stress feels like the new normaland more stress in your life can lead to changes in your health.
Headaches in particular are often brought about by increased stress levels, but while “stress headaches” may be a good description of what’s going on in your body, it’s not an entirely accurate diagnosis. Here’s what you need to know about headaches triggered by stress, and how to help relieve the pain.
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Are There Different Kinds Of Migraine
Yes, there are many forms of migraine. The two forms seen most often are migraine with aura and migraine without aura.
Migraine with aura . With a migraine with aura, a person might have these sensory symptoms 10 to 30 minutes before an attack:
- Seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots
- Numbness or tingling in the face or hands
- Disturbed sense of smell, taste, or touch
- Feeling mentally fuzzy
Only one in five people who get migraine experience an aura. Women have this form of migraine less often than men.
Migraine without aura . With this form of migraine, a person does not have an aura but has all the other features of an attack.
How To Prevent Tension Headaches
Headaches are a common health problem, and in most cases it is easier to prevent a headache than treat one.
You may not be able to prevent every headache but avoiding your headache triggers can help reduce the amount of headaches you experience.
At the Mindful Healing Clinic, we can help you learn how to prevent headaches, including tension headaches.
What are some steps you can take to prevent tension headaches?
Keep reading to find out more.
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Tension Headache Risk Factors
Up to 80% of adults in the U.S. get them from time to time. About 3% have chronic daily tension headaches. Women are twice as likely to get them as men.
Most people with episodic tension headaches have them no more than once or twice a month, but they can happen more often.
Many people with the chronic type have usually had them for more than 60 to 90 days.
How To Cope When One Of Your Migraine Triggers Is Stress
To say that dealing with the chronic pain of migraine is a challenge is an understatement. Those challenges are magnified when stress is one of your migraine triggers. Stress can cause migraine, chronic pain creates more stressand so the cycle continues. And, to add insult to injury, if your body is accustomed to constant stress, a weekend off can result in a let down migraine when your stress abruptly lowers. Not exactly a win-win for those living with migraine.
The migraine brain is vulnerable to change such as sleep and stress, and is, therefore, best kept stable, says Peter Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of headache disorders at UC San Francisco Medical Center.
In addition to finding a doctor, keeping a headache diary, and finding the proper medication, one of the most effective things you can do to control migraine is to reduce your stress, which sounds easy, right? Wrong. So, in our busy lives, how can we better manage the stress associated with migraine? Here are a few tips on how to do this.
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Get An Ergonomic Desk
If you work a desk job, adjustments to your workspace can help prevent tension headaches.
An ergonomic seating device can help support the upper and lower back, and help maintain proper posture.
A stand-up desk can also prevent poking chin posture, which compresses the cervical spine and irritates surrounding structures, contributing to headaches.
Staring at your computer screen too long can cause headaches, so take breaks to rest your eyes.
In addition, reduce excessively bright lighting and minimize glare.
Replace your old CRT monitor with an LCD monitor, which is easier on the eyes because they have an anti-reflective surface.
How Are Tension Headaches Treated And Diagnosed
Tension headaches are diagnosed based on the patient’s reported history of the headache and physical examination. There is no test to specifically confirm tension headache. Because the physical examination in patients with tension headache is generally normal, additional testing such as CT scan or MRI scan usually isn’t required. Some basic blood work may be done to confirm that no underlying abnormality is present.
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When To Call The Doctor
- You are experiencing “the worst headache of your life.”
- You have speech, vision, or movement problems or loss of balance, especially if you have not had these symptoms with a headache before.
- A headache starts suddenly.
Schedule an appointment or call your provider if:
- Your headache pattern or pain changes.
- Treatments that once worked no longer help.
- You have side effects from your medicine.
- You are pregnant or could become pregnant. Some medicines should not be taken during pregnancy.
- You need to take pain medicines more than 3 days a week.
- Your headaches are more severe when lying down.
Medications And Home Care
You can start by drinking more water. You may be dehydrated and need to increase your water intake. Also, you should consider how much sleep youre getting. Lack of sleep can lead to tension headaches. And make sure you didnt skip any meals, which can trigger headaches.
According to the Mayo Clinic, using OTC medications too much may lead to overuse or rebound headaches. These types of headaches occur when you become so accustomed to a medication that you experience pain when the drugs wear off.
OTC drugs are sometimes not enough to treat recurring tension headaches. In such cases, your healthcare provider may give you a prescription for medication, such as:
- prescription-strength acetaminophen
If pain relievers arent working, they may prescribe a muscle relaxant. This is a medication that helps stop muscle contractions.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe an antidepressant, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor . SSRIs can stabilize your brains levels of serotonin and can help you cope with stress.
They may also recommend other treatments, such as:
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Outlook For People With Tension Headaches
Tension headaches often respond to treatment and rarely cause any permanent neurological damage. Still, chronic tension headaches can affect your quality of life.
These headaches can make it difficult for you to participate in physical activities. You may also miss days of work or school. If it becomes a serious problem, talk to your healthcare provider.
Its important to not ignore severe symptoms. Seek medical attention immediately if you have a headache that starts suddenly or a headache accompanied by:
- slurred speech
Headache Triggers You Cant Control
Some headache triggers such as hydration and sleep are, for the most part, under your control.
But there are other triggers which are not under your control, making them much more difficult to prevent.
Hormonal fluctuations during menstruation, menopause, and ovulation are an example of these triggers.
Among migraine sufferers, women are three times more likely to experience a migraine than men, and 75% of those experience migraines around their menstrual period.
The weather and its fluctuations are another trigger which cant be controlled.
Common weather-related triggers include:
High humidity and heat, which can lead to dehydration
Lastly, strong smells can be a headache trigger, and they can be difficult to control.
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When To See A Doctor
Aside from the use of stress management techniques, many people find that over-the-counter stress relievers are also very helpful. However, particularly with migraines, heavier medications may prove to be more useful. And because some headaches can be associated with more serious health conditions, its important to see a doctor if you have severe headaches or if you just suspect that something may be significantly wrong.
Either way, stress management can be helpful, but if you’re concerned about your headaches and they interfere with your daily activities or you seem to need more help than stress management alone, it’s always a good idea to run things by your doctor to be sure there are no serious issues at play, or to find the help you need to be more comfortable in your daily life.
As If Stress Werent Bad Enough On Its Own It Can Both Trigger And Worsen Headaches
Modern life is stressful and, unfortunately, that doesnt seem likely to change any time soon. From the moment your alarm clock jolts you out of bed until youre finally done for the day, you are likely to experience some amount of stress. This can be in the form of anxiety or other psychological pressures, or physical stress such as eye and neck strain from sitting at a computer. While a little stress is tolerable, too much can have damaging effects on your health.i Many symptoms can be attributed to the mental and physiological pressures were under. These can range from fatigue to stomach upset to sleep problems. Top of the list? That nagging headache.ii
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Soothe Pain With A Cold Compress
Using a cold compress may help reduce your headache symptoms.
Applying cold or frozen compresses to the neck or head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction and constricts blood vessels, all of which help reduce headache pain .
In one study in 28 women, applying a cold gel pack to the head significantly reduced migraine pain .
To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel. Apply the compress to the back of the neck, head or temples for headache relief.
Coenzyme Q10 is a substance produced naturally by the body that helps turn food into energy and functions as a powerful antioxidant .
Studies have shown that taking CoQ10 supplements may be an effective and natural way to treat headaches.
For example, one study in 80 people demonstrated that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 supplements per day reduced migraine frequency, severity and length .
Another study including 42 people who experienced frequent migraines found that three 100-mg doses of CoQ10 throughout the day helped decrease migraine frequency and migraine-related symptoms like nausea (
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Contact The Mindful Healing Clinic
In addition to these preventative measures, naturopathic treatments are available for tension headaches, depending on the specifications of your individual disorder.
If you have been diagnosed with tension headaches or suspect that you have been experiencing them, contact me, Dr. Maria Cavallazzi, at the Mindful Healing Clinic.
During your initial appointment, you and I will sit down and talk about your tension headaches and any other health concerns you may have.
From there, well create a treatment plan based on your unique health needs.
Contact the Mindful Healing Clinic to book your FREE 15-minute introductory session today!
Until next time,
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Getting Immediate Relief For Your Tension Headaches
You can often feel a tension headache starting to build up in your head. You can feel the first signs of tension building up in the muscles of your head. When you sense that first sign of tension, slow down and stop whatever it is you are doing for a moment. Pay attention to the tension and accept it. This in and of itself may short circuit and stop the tension.
Other things that might help stop the buildup of tension are:
- Take a walk
- Take a moment and slow down whatever it is you are doing.
- Take some deep breaths to release your tension.
- Massage the muscles in your head and neck to release the tension. This can be very effective.
If none of these measures work, you might want to take an over the counter pain killer that you know and that works well for you. Experiment with your medication, and figure out the smallest does that will stop your headache effectively.
But the most important thing to do is to take measure that will help you prevent the occurrence of tension headaches in the future.
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How To Reduce Stress To Avoid Attacks
Even if your stress wasnât giving you debilitating headaches, it would still be a good idea to get a handle on it. Unchecked stress can cause other medical conditions too, like heart disease and high blood pressure. Not all stress is avoidableâthink of big changes like starting a new job or losing a loved oneâbut studies show that headaches are more likely to be caused by the daily grind than by major stressful events. Thatâs good news, because itâs easier to cut down on daily stress than to avoid ever changing your life.
So, how can you reduce your day-to-day stress and get a handle on your condition? First, youâll want to make sure you know what your priorities are, set a schedule that makes time for the things that are most important to you, and then stick to it by managing your time wisely. If youâre already a scheduling whiz, here are a few pointers you may not have thought of:
What do migraine experts recommend for reducing stress? âThe migraine brain likes consistency, so making schedules as consistent as possible is helpful,â says Dr. Cristina Wohlgehagen, founder of the International Headache Center and Cove Medical Advisor. âYou know your body best, so remember to allow for a daily routine that feels right for you.â She also suggests tracking your attacks to find out if theyâre more likely to happen during or after periods of high stress, so you can start to predict them and plan accordingly.
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How To Tell If Stress Is Contributing To Your Headaches
First things first: Before you label your head pain a stress headache, make sure there’s not something more serious going on: “You want to rule out headaches associated with nausea or vomiting, extreme pounding headaches, or a headache that’s also associated with nerve pain or vision changes,” says Gandhi. “There can be an underlying reason for headaches, like high blood pressure, a potential aneurysm, or more.” If you find your headache falls into any of these categories, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to rule out other health issues.
But if you find that you usually experience tension headacheswhich can feel like a tight band squeezing your headthat come and go during busy times, they could be stress-related. Here are a few more strategies for figuring out if stress is the cause of your headaches: