Nearly 90 percent of men and 95 percent of women have had at least one headache in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the American Council for Headache Education. With these figures and the fact that you are reading this article, chances are that you have experienced the discomfort and pain of a headache. While studies show that most people with a headache use nonprescription pain relievers to treat their symptoms, taking these headache medications may not always be a good idea.

There are a lot of over the counter pain relief medications for headaches available today. While these headache medications may provide some timely relief, they do not cure the underlying causes of the headaches and can carry with them numerous side effects. Additionally, if you use these headache medications on a frequent basis, they can lose their effect and in many cases, make your headache worse.

While you should not hesitate to take an effective headache medicine as directed for an occasional headache, health professionals advise being cautious about overuse, particularly if you find you are using the headache medication more than three or four times a week. This can result in a type of chronic daily headache called a drug rebound headache.

Drug Rebound Headache

A drug rebound headache is caused by the daily use of headache medications to treat headache symptoms. The headache returns as each dose of medication wears off, prompting the individual to take another dose of medication. This results in a vicious cycle, where the only treatment for the headache is stopping the medication. Reports show that those suffering from drug rebound headaches experience a marked lessening of headache symptoms just by cutting out the daily use of the medications. While the patient may initially feel worse, improvement begins shortly thereafter.

If you are taking headache medication more than three or four days a week, discuss your situation with your doctor. A combination of other treatment methods may be safer and more effective.

Natural Headache Relief

Taking good care of yourself can help prevent headaches. Before reaching for the headache medication, try out some of these common natural remedies.

Take a hot bath. This is great remedy for tension headaches. The hot bath helps release contracted muscles around the head, neck and shoulders and allows your whole body to feel relaxed.

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. Studies show that three out of four Americans do not drink enough water. To stay plenty hydrated, drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day.

Get regular exercise. Physical activity causes your body to release chemicals that block pain signals to your brain. Exercise will also help release stress and tension in your body--which is a great thing since stress is a common cause for headaches.

Don't skip meals. Skipping meals is another common cause of headaches. Your body needs consistency. Start your day with a healthy breakfast, and eat lunch and dinner at about the same time every day.

Keep a headache diary. If you're not sure what triggers your headaches, keep a headache diary to start tracking patterns. Write down the details about every headache including when it started, what you were doing at the time, what you ate that day, how you slept the night before, what was your stress level, and what, if anything, provided relief. Eventually, you may begin to see patterns--and be able to take steps to prevent future headaches.

There are also other non-drug approaches that you may want to consider such as acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, yoga and meditation. These can be helpful in reducing headache frequency and symptoms.

When to Consult Your Doctor

While occasional headaches are common, it's important to take headaches seriously. The Mayo Clinic recommends consulting your doctor if:

  • You usually have three or more headaches a week.
  • You take a pain reliever for your headaches every day or almost every day.
  • You need more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain remedies to relieve your headaches.
  • Your headache pattern changes.
  • Your headaches are getting worse.


American Council for Headache Education, Accessed Dec. 8, 2009.

Headache Information Page. Yale University Medical Group. Accessed Dec. 8, 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Chronic Daily Headaches, Information Page. Accessed Dec. 8, 2009.

Wedro, B.C. Headaches. Accessed Dec. 8, 2009.