November 29, 2015
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Tension Headache (cont.)

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What is the treatment for tension headache?

Treatment for tension headaches include prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, combination drugs containing aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine, and stress management.

Prescription medications for tension headaches

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 agents; a physician can help determine which agent is best for a patient.

OTC drugs for tension headaches

Many people treat tension headache on their own, using OTC (over-the-counter) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), or combination medications containing acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine (Excedrin). 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 Reye's syndrome.
  • Chronic use of acetaminophen, or use of acetaminophen in large amounts may lead to liver toxicity (current recommended maximal dose is 3 grams per 24 hours), and a number of medications are combined with acetaminophen so patients should discuss all OTC drugs they are taking with their doctors.

Managing stress

For people who experience recurrent tension headache, stress management techniques have been an effective way of helping to decrease headache frequency and severity. This can include regular exercise, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation training. Other non-medicinal approaches can include massage therapy, heat, ice, or acupuncture. Learning to identify stressful situations which trigger headache and taking steps to avoid these is also a useful strategy for many individuals.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/22/2015


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