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Headaches: What Can You Do to Ease the Pain?

Identify and be mindful of your headache triggers

Image of a wheel showing pills, cigarettes, and a cup of coffee

Keep a headache diary to see what affects your headaches

Triggers are things that can bring on or make your headaches worse. Some common triggers are:

  • Emotional

    • Stress, anxiety, anger

  • Medicine

    • Overuse of opioids, butalbital, and other pain medicines

  • Lifestyle

    • Skipped meals, dehydration, change in sleep, extreme fatigue

  • Diet

    • Caffeine, processed or fermented foods, food additives, artificial sweeteners, alcohol

  • Environmental

    • High altitude, motion changes, flickering lights, odors, smoking

  • Hormonal

    • Menstrual periods, menopause, and other hormonal changes

What can you do?

Steps to treat a headache

  • If you can, go to a quiet dark room where you can relax

  • Drink water, about 8 cups or more a day (64 ounces)

  • Place a cool damp cloth on your head

  • Take headache medicine as recommended by your healthcare provider

  • Try to limit your use of pain pills. Avoid using it more than 2 times a week (both prescribed and over-the-counter pain pills)

  • Many pain medicines can cause more headaches. The pain can also get worse after taking several doses.

    • Opioid medicines

      • Oxycodone

      • Hydrocodone

      • Morphine

      • Codeine and others

    • Pills containing butalbital

  • If you think your pain pills may be worsening your headaches, call your provider to discuss alternatives.

Headache prevention medicines

  • If you have at least 1 headache a week, or if your headaches are severe and disabling, ask your healthcare provider about medicines to prevent headaches

    • These medicines are taken every day

    • When you first start them, it can take 4 to 6 weeks or longer to see the full effect

    • Prevention medicines can reduce how often you have the headache and decrease the pain from the headache

  • Types of medicines used for headache prevention:

    • Beta-blockers

      • Propranolol, metoprolol

    • Anticonvulsants

      • Topiramate, divalproex sodium, valproic acid

    • Antidepressants

      • Amitriptyline, nortriptyline, imipramine, desipramine

      • Venlafaxine

      • Mirtazapine

Other ways to reduce headaches

Image of a meter that says pain relief

  • Be active and exercise every day

  • Limit caffeine found in soft drinks, coffee, tea

  • Try to get enough sleep to feel rested

  • Drink water, about 8 cups or more a day (64 ounces)

  • Practice relaxation activities to lower stress and anxiety

    • Deep breathing

    • Tai chi or yoga

    • Listen to music

    • Meditation

How will I know my plan is helping?

  • Less headache pain

  • More days headache-free

  • You will be able to do more

  • You may need to take less medicine for headaches

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 6/1/2018
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