What do I need to know about preventive headache medications?

If you take a preventive medicine for your headaches, you need to know:

  • why you need it, how long you'll need it, and about the specific types available to you
  • how to use it safely
  • how to take it
  • how it works
  • what to do if you have side effects

Read on to learn more and talk with your doctor about each of these items before you start to take preventive medication.



Preventive medication is also called prophylactic medication. You use it to reduce the number of headaches you have and lessen their severity. If the number of your headaches is even reduced by half, your preventive medication is working.

Who needs it. Your doctor may prescribe preventive medication if any of the following is true:

  • You have at least 3 headaches a month.
  • You have developed rebound, or medication-induced, headaches.
  • You are very limited in your day-to-day life by headaches.

How long you need it.Your doctor may reduce or stop these medications once the symptoms and frequency of your headaches are under control.

What are the types of preventive medicines?

There are several different types of preventive medication. Some are used to treat other conditions. For instance, antidepressants are sometimes used to help prevent headaches. This fact should not concern you. You do not have to be depressed to benefit from these medications. On the other hand, if you do have another condition such as depression, a preventive medication that also treats that condition may be the best choice for you. To learn more about the specific types, see What should I know about the specific type of preventive medication I'm taking?

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