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What Are The Best Painkillers For Headaches?

June 10, 2021

If you suffer from headaches, you’re probably making regular trips to the medicine cabinet. But if you’re taking painkillers for headaches, you may be doing damage to other parts of your body.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches, followed by migraine headaches and cluster headaches. Over-the-counter medications are typically enough to knock a headache down, but sometimes (especially for migraine headaches) a prescription may be needed.

So, let’s take a look at what researchers say are the best painkillers for headaches and how you can safely keep them under control.

Over-The-Counter NSAIDS Are OK, But...

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are commonly used over-the-counter painkillers. But researchers say that long-term use of NSAIDs can irritate your stomach lining and cause ulcers or stomach bleeding.

To help combat this, drug makers developed what is known as "stomach-sparing" NSAIDs. These are prescription medications like celecoxib (Celebrex). They’re supposed to be less likely to cause stomach problems.

And according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NSAIDs may also increase your risk for heart attack and stroke — even with short-term use, and this includes people who don't have known heart disease. The FDA even added information in the drug label for people who already have had a heart attack.

If you don't have an existing health condition, your best bet may be to start with acetaminophen, since it has fewer risks than NSAIDs when taken at recommended levels. It has been linked to liver failure, so you should not take more than 3,000mg of acetaminophen per day. And tell your doctor if you’re planning to take acetaminophen and have had liver disease.

Migraine Medications

Headache remedies for migraine headaches are usually prescription drugs. They typically include:

  • Beta blockers
  • Tricyclics
  • Calcium-channel blockers
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Triptans

Triptans are meant for acute treatment of migraines, while all the other categories are meant for chronic prevention of migraines.

You must talk to a doctor in order to get a prescription. The drugs are not available over the counter.

Natural Headache Painkillers

If you’re hoping to avoid medications altogether, here are a few natural remedies you can try.

  • A warm bath can help you relax and may also reduce any muscle pain that could be contributing to a tension headache.
  • If you have a migraine, place a cold pack on your forehead. One study even found that applying a frozen neck wrap on your carotid arteries can reduce headache pain.
  • Essential oils may also help. A study found that the smell of lavender may help alleviate migraine pain.

It used to be that a headache was an excuse to get out of sex, but a new study finds it may actually help them go away. Research shows that if you’re suffering from migraines you may have less serotonin in your body than other people. Researchers believe that sex can help alleviate headaches because it releases serotonin.

If you’re suffering, remember that the best painkillers for headaches may not come in over-the-counter medicine. It might also be helpful to talk to others who understand exactly what you’re going through. You can find out what natural remedies or medications they’re using to help ease the pain.

But talking to your doctor is the best first step to getting the treatment that will work best for you. Your doctor can put together a headache management strategy that is personalized for you.

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