Best Treatments for Headaches and Migraines
Best Treatments for Headaches and Migraines
This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
Getting a headache or a migraine is one of the most uncomfortable feelings you can have, and potentially one of the most painful as well.
There is a wide range of treatments out there that say that they help clear headaches and migraines but which ones are the most suitable?
What is a headache?
When it comes to treating any condition it is important to know what it actually is.
A headache is typically a pain that exists in the head or neck.
There are two types of headache that can occur; a primary headache and a secondary headache.
A primary head accounts for around 90% of all headaches and can be caused by a number of different ways.
- Cold and flu
- Too much alcohol
- Bad posture
- Eyesight problems
- Not eating enough
- Too many painkillers
- Women having their period or going through menopause
- Loud noises
- Head injury
- Fast eating and drinking of cold food and drink
A secondary headache is generally a symptom of an underlying issue. If you feel you might have a secondary headache, speak to a doctor as soon as possible.
Is a pain in the brain another reason for a headache?
The brain itself does not have any pain receptors, so it can’t cause pain itself.
However, there are nerves, blood vessels, and muscles in the head around the brain that do have them.
When you feel like your brain is hurting, it is actually because of the muscles tightening on the head.
This is most likely caused by stress or anxiety.
Are there different headaches that affect different areas of the head?
In short, yes. Any a headache will either be a primary or a secondary headache but they will all affect you in different ways.
Some examples of these are:
- A tension headache – A primary type of headache that causes an ache all over your head which doesn’t have a throbbing sensation. As a result of this headache, you may also feel sensitive in the upper part of the body.
- A cluster headache – This is another primary headache but unlike other headaches, this is a series. Cluster headaches come with a burning feeling and a pain on one side of the face, often in and around the eye. Typically, a cluster headache will only last for 15 minutes or up to 3 hours. People who suffer from a cluster headache will experience between 1-4 a day. Men are three times more likely to experience a cluster headache.
- A sinus headache – A secondary headache type that often occurs as a result of an allergic reaction. This is a headache that occurs at the front of the face and head, with mucus build up in the nose. It is in fact often misdiagnosed as a migraine.
- A caffeine headache – This headache is caused by consuming too much caffeine, as it can affect blood flow to the brain. A caffeine headache can also be caused by withdrawals from caffeine after suddenly not having any.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a primary type of a headache that is a throbbing feeling at the side of the head.
Migraines can be accompanied with other symptoms, like vomiting, nausea, or an increased sensitivity to lights and sounds.
A migraine is quite common, affecting 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men. There are three types of a migraine that could occur:
- A migraine with aura – This type of a migraine will have warning symptoms before emerging. These include increased sensitivity to lights and sounds, as well as nausea. These symptoms usually emerge about an hour before a migraine itself.
- A migraine without aura – This migraine is sudden, as there are no warning symptoms that it is going to occur. This type of migraine is the most common.
- Aura without a Migraine – This goes the other way; this is when you experience the aura effects but no actual migraine emerges.
What causes a migraine?
A migraine can be caused by a number of different reasons.
These include hormonal changes, emotional changes, as well as certain food and drink.
A migraine can also be triggered by environmental changes and also some types of medication.
How long does a migraine last?
Typically, a migraine, or another headache for that matter, only normally lasts 24 hours, and often less than that.
It can be that a migraine may only last for 20 minutes before clearing up.
They can last for up to 72 hours and be reoccurring for longer, potentially for up to 3 months at a time.
What are the main treatments for headaches?
The most common form of treatments for headaches is tablets or capsules that contain a painkiller, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, sometimes both of them.
There isn’t a single type of headache, in the same way, there isn’t a single form of treatment.
Aside from tablets or capsules, there are also sticks that can be applied to the head in order to help relieve pain.
There are also suppositories available for those who are struggling to swallow.
When it comes to finding the right medication, those who know their active ingredients will know of a wider range of treatments than those who stick to the old tried and tested.
Aside from paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, you can also take codeine.
Although codeine is not as strong as other painkillers, so it is often combined with other painkillers in treatments.
One such example is co-codamol, which is codeine and paracetamol combined.
As for there being a singular best treatment?
That does depend on the situation.
In most cases, paracetamol will reduce pain and help ease the effects of a headache, whereas ibuprofen is more suitable if the cause of a headache is known, such as inflammation.
Aspirin has similar qualities to ibuprofen but it is not as effective.
What are the main treatments for migraines?
As with other types of headaches, painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are the most common and effective options for treating a migraine.
They should be taken when the first signs of a migraine emerge.
If those painkillers do not work, then there are other options.
One such option is a triptan.
A triptan is a prescribed painkiller that is designed to reverse the effects caused by a migraine.
They work by narrowing the blood vessels around the brain that have been affected by a migraine.
It is worth noting though that triptans do have side effects which include:
- Heavy feeling in the face, chest, and/or limbs
Taking too many of these can lead to overdose, like with many treatments. For more information regarding triptans, speak to your GP.
Can more than one painkiller be taken at once?
To know if you can take more than one painkiller at once, check out our guide on that exact topic.
Are these headache and migraine treatments suitable to be used when pregnant?
Paracetamol is generally fine to take when pregnant but you shouldn’t take ibuprofen during pregnancy.
For more information on what you can and cannot take, see our guide.
What is the best treatment for a headache or a migraine?
For most cases of a headache or a migraine, the standard off the shelf treatments, paracetamol and ibuprofen, should be enough to help relieve the effects and successfully ease all aches and pains.
When those don’t work, a prescribed treatment is likely the course required so you will need to speak to a doctor or specialist.