Medicating Headaches: Understanding the Different Types and Best Treatments

Headaches are a common discomfort experienced by many individuals. They can range from mild to severe and can be caused by various factors such as stress, lack of sleep, poor posture, and dehydration. While over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are often used to treat headaches, it’s important to understand what medication is best for your specific type of headache. In this article, we will explore the different types of headaches and the medications that are commonly used to treat them.

Types of Headaches

There are several types of headaches, each with a unique set of causes and symptoms. The most common types of headaches include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.

Tension Headaches: Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are caused by muscle contractions in the neck and head. Symptoms include a steady, aching pain on both sides of the head, as well as tenderness in the neck, shoulders, and scalp.

Migraines: Migraines are intense, throbbing headaches that often come with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. They are caused by changes in the brain and surrounding blood vessels.

Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are rare but extremely painful headaches that tend to occur in clusters, usually at the same time of day. They are usually one-sided and accompanied by a tearing or redness of the eye on the affected side.

Over-The-Counter Medications

There are several OTC medications that are commonly used to treat headaches. These include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): This is a pain reliever that is effective in treating mild to moderate headaches. It works by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are substances in the body that cause pain and inflammation.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin): This is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can help to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. It is also effective in treating headaches caused by muscle tension.
  • Aspirin: Aspirin is another NSAID that is commonly used to treat headaches. It works by blocking the production of prostaglandins and reducing pain and inflammation.
  • Naproxen (Aleve): This is a stronger NSAID that can be used to treat more severe headaches, including migraines.

Prescription Medications

If OTC medications are not effective in treating your headaches, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication. These prescription medications can include:

  • Triptans: Triptans are a class of medications that are specifically designed to treat migraines. They work by narrowing blood vessels and blocking the release of certain chemicals in the brain that cause pain.
  • Ergots: Ergots are another type of medication that can be used to treat migraines. They work by constricting blood vessels in the head and reducing the flow of blood to the affected area.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Anti-inflammatory medications, such as corticosteroids, can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation in the head and neck, helping to relieve headache pain.

Learn more on Wikipedia


In conclusion, there are several medications that can be used to treat headaches, ranging from OTC pain relievers to prescription medications. It’s important to understand the type of headache you are experiencing in order to determine the best course of treatment. If OTC medications are not effective, it’s important to speak with your doctor about other options. They can help to determine the underlying cause of your headache and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan.

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