How are headaches treated?

Your family physician may recommend different types of treatment, or may recommend further testing or refer you to a headache specialist.

The proper treatment will depend on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. Not all headaches require medication management. Treatment may include education, counseling, stress management, biofeedback, as well as medications. The treatment prescribed for you will be tailored to meet your specific needs.

  • Headache education includes identifying and recording what triggers your headache, such as lack of sleep, not eating at regular times, eating certain foods or additives, caffeine, environment, or stress. Avoiding headache triggers is an important step in successfully treating the headaches.
  • Counseling in the form of one-on-one sessions, group therapy, or support groups can help you identify your headache triggers and teach you useful coping techniques.
  • Stress management. To successfully treat headaches, it is important for you to identify what causes or triggers the headaches. Then you can learn ways to cope or remove the stressful activities or events. Relaxation techniques are helpful in managing stress and include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, mental imagery relaxation, or relaxation to music. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these techniques.
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback equipment includes sensors connected to your body to examine your involuntary physical responses to headaches, such as breathing, pulse, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain activity. By learning to recognize these physical reactions and how the body responds in stressful situations, biofeedback can help you learn how to release and control tension that causes headaches.
  • Medications. There are three types of headache medications, including symptomatic relief, abortive (treats an individual attack), and preventive medications (reduce the frequency and severity of individual attacks).

What happens after I start treatment for headaches?

When your doctor starts a treatment program, keep track of the results and how the treatment program is working. Keep your scheduled follow-up appointments so that your doctor can check your progress and make changes in the treatment program as needed. Keeping a headache diary can be extremely helpful to measure progress, or the lack of progress.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/16/2018.


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