Headache Treatment

Headache treatment varies depending on the type of headache. The most common types of headaches by far are benign tension headaches or stress headaches. Other types of headaches have different types of treatments.

Most commonly, simply analgesics, pain medications are recommended for most headaches. Over the counter medications like ibuprofen, Excedrin, acetaminophen and others are the most commonly used examples. However, these treatments are not necessarily the most effective or appropriate for all types of headache. Common headache treatment options will be listed below for each type of headache.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type and are benign. Most commonly, they are caused by stress, physical discomfort and/or fatigue. Therefore, these headaches do not always require specific treatment and will usually resolve with rest and relaxation. However, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, Excedrin, Tylenol, Aleve and others are often used and will usually improve the headache symptoms.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches can be harder to control. Some will respond to the same basic pain medications used for tension headaches. However, others will not respond well to these treatments. Some non-medication treatments include avoidance of triggers and exercise. Some medications are more specific to migraine headache treatment and include both abortive medications (such as the triptans, ergotamine, anti-nausea medications and opiates such as codeine, etc.) which help relieve the pain of an acute attack. Other treatments aim to prevent headaches and include beta-blockers (propranolol), antidepressant medications (tricyclic drugs), anti-seizure medications (Neurontin, Depakote, etc.) and antihistamines.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are a unique form of headache which generally do not respond to other basic headache treatments. They usually require specific treatments such as oxygen, triptan medications (like those used for migraine), ergotamine, octreotide or local anesthetics. Even so, they can be difficult to control. In extreme cases which do not respond well to these treatments, surgical nerve blocks and other surgical approaches may aid in the treatment in some patients.

Meningitis Headaches

Meningitis is an infection of the spaces around the brain and spinal cord. It generally causes severe headache but it is an acute headache that leads to other symptoms of the disease (fever, neck stiffness/pain, nausea, vomiting, deteriorating level of consciousness, etc.). The treatment of meningitis is aimed at rapidly treating the infection. In the case of bacterial meningitis this means intravenous administration of powerful antibiotics to kill the causative bacteria. Viral meningitis is generally much less serious and has no specific treatment. With rest, the virus runs its course without any specific treatment.

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Headaches

Subarachnoid hemorrhage causes severe, sudden headache. The headache is due to the bleeding into the space around the brain, usually caused by the rupture of an aneurysm. In these cases, the most urgent treatments are aimed at supporting the patient and preventing further bleeding. These treatments are not aimed at controlling the headache itself but rather at treating the causative aneurysm and its effects. Just treating the headache without assessing an addressing the underlying problem is inappropriate in this situation.

Brain Tumor Headaches

As with subarachnoid hemorrhage, treating the underlying disease is more important than treating the headache itself. Therefore, in patients with headaches related to a brain tumor, the most pressing matter is to treat the brain tumor itself. Beyond this, general pain medications are often recommended to decrease pain and make the patient more comfortable.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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