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A Look at How Headache Medicine Works

Last updated on November 28th, 2022 at 12:05 pm

How headache medicine works depends on its type, but generally they target chemicals that cause pain and try to suppress their action. Keep reading to learn more…

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When you take a medicine for headache, it would most likely be a painkiller. It helps to block the effects of certain chemicals that causes inflammation and pain.

The medicine can work within 30 minutes and starts to provide relief from pain. While it is a boon for headache sufferers, one must avoid overuse as it can cause problems.

Best painkillers for headaches

The most effective way of treating a headache is by taking a painkiller. The pain medication to take depends on the headache type.

  • If you have migraine headaches, then the migraine symptoms would be unbearable. The best painkiller for migraine sufferers is NSAID medicines like Ibuprofen and Naproxen.
  • A combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine may be effective.
  • For a cluster headache, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen can be taken.
  • If you are suffering from tension-type headaches, then aspirin can be very effective. Ibuprofen is another drug that can help.
  • For sinus headaches, you can take acetaminophen or aspirin. Nasal sprays can also be helpful for this condition.

Apart from taking medicines when you get a headache, you can also take preventive medications. For migraines, NSAIDs like naproxen and triptans can be helpful.

It is advisable not to take painkillers for a long duration without consulting a doctor.

What can I take for a severe headache?

If you or your family members are suffering from severe migraine attacks, you can take aspirin or ibuprofen. It can help provide quick relief from the debilitating symptoms.

Migraine treatment is effective when you identify migraine triggers and avoid them.

Loud noises can also trigger a migraine headache. Where such triggers are identified, they must be avoided to prevent headaches.

For cluster headaches, triptans and the drug Emgality can be helpful in providing relief.

A NSAID known as Indocin is very helpful in treating tension headaches. However, it is available only on prescription.

Where required, use ice packs, steam baths, and natural methods to get relief from headaches.

Apart from medicines, you need to adopt lifestyle changes to prevent severe headaches. This helps in long-term relief.

How do painkillers work?

When you take painkillers to treat a medical condition, the medicine is absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, it is taken to various places in the body.

NSAIDs work by blocking an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase. This prevents the production of prostaglandin that causes inflammation and pain.

Acetaminophen works by blocking brain chemical messengers that send pain signals.

Tylenol also works by blocking an enzyme that causes pain though its action is not clearly known.

You must know overuse of painkillers like Tylenol can cause liver disease. Taking higher doses for a long duration can even lead to kidney problems.

Headache tablets name

Headache specialists would prescribe tablets based on the patient’s case history and health condition. It would be a good idea to know the names of various tablets that doctors prescribe.

  • For chronic migraine, the tablets prescribed would include Ocufen, Advil, Actron, and Aleve. 
  • The best medicine for tension headache includes Robaxin, Amrix, Skelaxin, Cataflam, and Advil. For tension headaches, Nalfon, Ocufen, , Actron, and Aleve can help in prevention. 
  • For general pain relief from headache, Tylenol (Acetaminophen) and Bayer (Aspirin) would be usually prescribed.

It is strongly advised that medication must be taken only on prescription by a doctor.

How headache medicine works

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Safest headache medicine

For a severe headache, the safest medicine is acetaminophen. It is a common medicine used to treat fever and various types of pain.

It is considered safe, since it is unlikely to cause side effects on the stomach that other painkillers do. It is also safe for people with heart problems.

Like most painkillers, it can cause liver problems if taken in excess. People with liver disease should exercise caution while taking this medicine.

Which is safer Tylenol or ibuprofen?

Tylenol and Ibuprofen are both good options to treat headache pain. Tylenol belongs to the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and contains acetaminophen.

Ibuprofen is an NSAID. It works by reducing inflammation and pain.

For people with heart disease, Tylenol is safer. Ibuprofen can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Ibuprofen can also cause bleeding in the stomach for some people.

If you have high blood pressure, then you should avoid Ibuprofen. It prevents the blood vessels from relaxing and can leading to clogging of the arteries.

Pregnant women should not take ibuprofen. Tylenol is considered safer for them.

It is believed to be safe during all the trimesters of a pregnancy.

Best OTC headache medicine

The best over the counter medication for headaches is Tylenol or any medication containing acetaminophen.

Aspirin and Ibuprofen are other popular OTC medicines to treat headaches.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you take OTC medicines for headaches.

  • Ensure you know the ingredients of the medicine. Check the label before buying.
  • Never exceed the recommended dosage written on the label.
  • NSAIDs can have side effects. People with liver, kidney, and bleeding problems should consult a doctor before taking NSAIDs.
  • Avoid taking painkillers for a long duration. Instead, consult a doctor.
  • You must know taking painkillers for more than 14 days can lead to a medication overuse headache.
How headache medicine works

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FAQs relating to how headache medicine works

The questions and answers listed below will help you know more about how headache medicine works.

How do headache drugs work?

When you take pain medications for headache, the medicine when taken in oral form has to be first digested. It then goes into the bloodstream.

If taken as an injection or through IV, then it goes straight into the bloodstream.

The pain medicine would then move around the body to different locations. It works mainly on the nerve endings and not in the head itself.

The body detects pain when the nerves send chemical messengers known as prostaglandins to the brain. The prostaglandin tells the brain all about the pain location and the brain responds by causing pain symptoms.

The headache medicine would prevent the prostaglandins from being produced. As a result, the brain either does not get the pain message or gets is clearly.

This ensures the pain reduces.

Stronger painkiller medicines go in between the nerve cells and prevent them from sending the pain message to the brain.

How do painkillers know where the pain is?

The headache pain occurs in one of the regions of the head depending on the type of headache. For example, tension headache may occur in the forehead and neck.

Migraine headaches can occur in the side of the head.

The pain is being felt there because the nerve cells of these areas have sent a signal to the brain telling it about the pain.

The signal is transferred through chemical messengers known as prostaglandins.

When you take a painkiller, the medicine does not know where the pain is. The medicine enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body.

When it reaches the head, then it blocks the production of prostaglandins. Since the brain does not get the message about pain, the pain symptom reduces.

If you take Tylenol for a headache and also have slight pain in the foot, you will find yourself getting relief from both the pains.

This is because the medicine works uniformly in all areas where there is inflammation.

How long does it take headache medicine to work?

A migraine pain can be intolerable, and you may pop a pill to get immediate relief. Once the pill goes to your stomach, it acts quickly to give you relief.

The time taken for the medicine to work depends on the way it is taken. Generally, medicines are taken in the form of pills or tablets.

The tablets are taken with water and enter the digestive system. From there, it is absorbed into the blood and moves to the area affected.

For this process to take place, approximately 30 minutes are needed. You will start to feel relief from pain within 30 minutes of taking the medicine.

The full effect of the pain killer can be experienced within 1 hour of taking the medicine. There are other factors that determine how fast a painkiller works.

  • The dosage of the medicine.
  • Your weight.
  • Your overall health condition and age.
  • Whether the stomach is empty or has food.
  • Whether any other drugs have been taken.

If taken through injection, the medicine reaches the bloodstream immediately. It starts to show its effect within a few minutes of being injected.

Which medicine is best during headache?

There are different medicines that can be taken for headaches. The medicine to be taken depends on the type of headache you are suffering from.

For severe migraines, you can take OTC medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Triptans are effective medicines that can help treat migraines

If you get frequent headaches, then the common medicines prescribed are acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac. The medicine to be used depends on the symptoms of the headache

Prescription medications can be prescribed by a healthcare provider when OTC medication is not effective.

How headache medicine works

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