The best remedies for headache pain
Got a headache or migraine? Try one of these over-the-counter pain relievers
Examples: Advil Extra Strength Liqui-Gels; Aleve Caplets; Aspirin Original Strength; Atasol Forte Caplets; Motrin IB; Regular Strength Tylenol
How they work: Advil, Aleve, Aspirin and Motrin are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) that reduce levels of prostaglandins, the chemicals that dilate blood vessels and cause inflammation and pain. Ingredients include ibuprofen (in Advil and Motrin); acetylsalicylic acid-ASA (in Aspirin); and naproxen sodium (in Aleve). “In many cases, ibuprofen, ASA or naproxen sodium may be the better choice,” says Pindy Janda, a patient care pharmacist at London Drugs in Delta, B.C. “They not only relieve pain but also reduce inflammation, which is probably contributing to the headache.” But if you are taking other medications, choose acetaminophen, the key ingredient in Tylenol and Atasol that relieves pain. “It is only a pain or fever reducer, but has fewer interactions with other medications,” says Janda. Ibuprofen in liquid gel format provides the speediest relief (15 to 20 minutes); the next fastest is acetaminophen (20 minutes), followed by ASA and naproxen, which take about half an hour.
Need to know: Follow directions for NSAID doses; tablet sizes vary. For acetaminophen, take one to two tablets every four to six hours, up to a maximum of 12 within 24 hours. Check with your doctor before using these medications if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; taking blood thinners or other medications; or have asthma, ulcers, high blood pressure or heart, kidney or liver disease. ASA should not be taken by those under 18, as it is linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Pain relievers with caffeine
Examples: Tylenol Ultra Relief Tough on Headaches; Anacin Maximum Strength Tablets; Extra Strength Menstrual Midol Complete
How they work: “Caffeine has a pain-relieving quality that, when used in combination with pain relievers, is more effective than either one alone,” says Janda. If you can take NSAIDs safely, then a medicine like Anacin (ASA and caffeine) is a strong defence against pain. Otherwise, choose an acetaminophen-caffeine combination such as Tylenol and Midol.
Need to know: Steer clear of these medications if you have a poor tolerance for caffeine, as they can make some people feel jittery. “You should also avoid them if you are on any type of stimulant or heart-rate medication, or if you have an unstable heart rate,” adds Janda. Take two Anacin tablets every six hours, but not more than eight within 24 hours. One Tylenol tablet can be dosed every four to six hours up to a maximum of eight in 24 hours; the maximum daily amount for Midol is eight caplets in 24 hours. Read labels carefully, and follow the same precautions as with regular pain relievers-if you have certain medical conditions, talk with a doctor before taking any of these. Because Anacin contains ASA, it should not be taken by people under 18.
Example: Aromaforce Peppermint Essential Oil; Hyland’s Headache; Now Foods Butterbur with Feverfew; Orange Naturals Feverfew; Orange Naturals Magnesium Glycinate; Tiger Balm White
How they work: “Feverfew [in Now Foods and Orange Naturals] inhibits inflammation so the blood vessels don’t spasm as much,” says Pattillo. “Some studies show that people who take it over time have fewer and less severe headaches.” Butterbur (in Now Foods) has also been shown to reduce headache frequency. To treat the symptoms of a stress-induced headache right away, magnesium glycinate (a form of magnesium that won’t cause diarrhea) is a good choice, says Pattillo, since it relaxes muscles. For acute head pain, she also uses homeopathic formulas; Hyland’s Headache is one such treatment, meant to stimulate the body’s natural healing response to relieve headache symptoms due to stress.
One of the fastest and easiest ways to ease minor symptoms is to massage the temples with a topical product that has cooling properties. Dilute a peppermint essential oil (such as Aromaforce) in a carrier oil like olive or coconut, or use a menthol- and camphor-based balm (such as Tiger Balm). The cooling can confuse the perception of pain, and menthol can have a relaxing effect as well as anti-inflammatory properties, which can help pain relief.
Need to know: Follow directions for dosing feverfew, butterbur, magnesium and any natural remedies. Do not use peppermint essential oil directly on your skin, as it can cause irritation. Even natural treatments can interact with other medications or interfere with existing health conditions, so talk to your doctor before starting treatment.