Guidelines for Relieving Chronic Headaches
There are steps everyone can take to help relieve headaches without taking medication. The following guidelines can dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for prescription drugs.
- First and foremost it’s important to know that taking daily pain medication tends to perpetuate headaches. This is true for over-the-counter medications like Excedrin and BC powder, as well as prescription medications such as Fiorinal, Midrin, and “triptans” such as Imitrex, Zomig, Relpax and Frova, etc. Anyone who takes pain medications more than twice a week is in danger of perpetuating their headaches.
- Regular exercise helps reduce headaches by stimulating the release of pain suppressing endorphins in the brain. Aim for at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week, if not daily.
- Reducing stress can reduce headache frequency and severity. Headaches usually are not caused by stress alone. Usually people have a tendency for headaches, which is made worse by stress. If stress is severe, consider asking for a referral to a therapist for help learning techniques such as self-hypnosis. The book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” has suggestions on stress reduction that many have found helpful.
- Too much sleep and too little sleep can trigger headaches. People differ as to how much sleep is “right” for them. Pay attention to the amount of sleep you’re getting and whether the amount – either too little or too much – may be a headache trigger.
- Caffeine can bring on headaches. Try stopping caffeine for a few weeks to determine if it is contributing to your headaches or headache frequency or severity. Abruptly stopping all caffeine consumption can trigger headaches, too, so decrease your caffeine consumption over about a week’s time.
- Aspartame (NutraSweet) can cause headaches in some people. If you are drinking multiple servings a day of aspartame flavored drinks, stop drinking these beverages for a few weeks to determine if that may be a cause.
- Other foods may trigger headaches. For instance, red wine will cause migraines in many people. Chocolate, nuts, hot dogs (due to nitrites), and food containing monosodium glutamate may cause headaches. You may not need to omit all of these foods, but you should be aware that they are potential causes.
- Prophylactic medications for headaches should be taken as prescribed, but if you have trouble tolerating a medicine, tell your doctor so that another medication can be considered. No prophylactic medication works in everyone with headaches. Generally, each of the medications work in only about 60 percent of people, so it is not uncommon to try more than one medication. Medications need at least four to six weeks to work.
- Keep a record of your headaches using a standard calendar to mark days you have a headache, its severity on a scale of one to 10, what medication you took for it and how long the headache lasted. Also note anything you think helped bring on the headache. This will help determine if your efforts are helping.
- Taking 400mg of Riboflavin (vitamin B2) daily helps prevent migraines in many people. Vitamin B2 comes in 100mg size tablets, so you will need to take four tablets a day.