What do I need to know about medications to manage headache symptoms?

Some medications are taken to manage the pain, nausea, and other symptoms you have with your headaches. These are called symptom-relief medications or abortive medications. The goal of symptom management is to relieve pain and associated symptoms so that you feel comfortable and function normally.

Some medications used to control symptoms can be obtained over the counter. Other drugs used to control symptoms can be had only by prescription. Your doctor may prescribe medication for you if any of the following is true:

  • nonprescription pain relievers do not stop your symptoms
  • your headaches are severe
  • your headaches interfere with your normal activities

The choice of which medication to use is based on the type of headache you have. Also, the medication that will work best for you may differ from headache to headache. It may also differ over time. For instance, the nature of migraines often changes over the years, and new symptoms may arise. In addition, you may actually have more than one type of headache. For instance, you may have both migraine and tension-type headaches.

Sometimes one type of medication stops working well, and another type is needed. However, always consult your doctor before you make changes in the medications you take.

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