Suffer From Frequent Headaches? Why You May Need to Rethink Popping Painkillers by Dr. Suhyun An, DC, MSN, NP-C
Headaches remain a common source of pain in the U.S., but the frequency and severity differ widely among sufferers, and how to avoid headaches altogether is still a head-scratcher. The first remedy for most people is to take a painkiller. But this may not always be the best or safest option.
Whether it’s aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, ibuprofen or another medicine, these can work well – if you don’t use them too often. Using too much pain medicine can make your headache worse and cause other problems as well. And you may also have headaches more often as a result. Here's why you might want to rethink popping a painkiller every time you get a headache, and some other ways to deal with or reduce the frequency of headaches:
Problems With Painkiller Overuse
- Side effects: Non-prescription analgesics, commonly taken for headaches, can have serious side effects if taken too often. For example, if you regularly take acetaminophen (paracetamol) for several days, you could damage your liver. These drugs can also cause kidney problems. Aspirin and ibuprofen sometimes cause gastric bleeding.
- Rebound headache: An additional problem you may encounter if you take pain relievers regularly is a medication overuse headache, also known as a rebound headache. This is caused by regular, long-term use of medication to treat headaches, such as migraines. It becomes less effective and your headache comes back as soon as the medicine wears off. If you choose to take a pain reliever, always follow the dosage recommendations on the label.
Make lifestyle changes. Headaches occur for many reasons:
Tweaks in your daily routine can reduce the number of headaches or migraines you have:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Monitor your caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Have a consistent sleep schedule.
- Get exercise.
- Have a healthy diet.
Tracking your headaches can help you devise lifestyle changes. Write down when you get one and what you were doing beforehand.
See a doctor. If your headaches get in the way of daily life, it’s time to talk to a doctor. The following occurrences should cause someone to seek medical advice:
- Severe headaches that come on quickly.
- A headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.
- A headache increasing in severity despite rest and pain medication.
- Taking pain relievers more than twice a week.
- Certain actions like bending over or coughing that bring on a headache.
Your primary care physician is a good place to start, but headaches can be complex, and neurologists and headache specialists have special training to help them figure out the type of headache you have and its causes.
Use natural therapies. Many natural therapies can be useful. Your headache specialist may suggest stress management such as:
- relaxation exercises
- physical therapy
- cognitive behavior therapy
Whether or not you suffer from frequent, severe headaches, migraines or just the occasional tension headache, you should try to limit the use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Meanwhile, you should always be vigilant about your lifestyle habits.
The content on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information on this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider. The opinions or views expressed on 30Seconds.com do not necessarily represent those of 30Seconds or any of its employees, corporate partners or affiliates.
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