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Self-Care for Headaches

Most headaches aren't serious and can be relieved with self-care. But some headaches may be a sign of another health problem like eye trouble or high blood pressure. To find the best treatment, learn what kind of headaches you get. For tension headaches, self-care will usually help. To treat migraines, ask your doctor for advice. It is also possible to get both tension and migraine headaches. Self-care involves relieving the pain and avoiding headache “triggers” if you can.

Woman lying on bed resting with cold compress on forehead.

Ways to Reduce Pain and Tension

  • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the pain site.

  • Drink fluids. If nausea makes it hard to drink, try sucking on ice.

  • Rest. Protect yourself from bright light and loud noises.

  • Calm your emotions by imagining a peaceful scene.

  • Massage tight neck, shoulder, and head muscles.

  • To relax muscles, soak in a hot bath or use a hot shower.

Use Medications

Aspirin or aspirin substitutes, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can relieve headache. Remember: Never give aspirin to anyone 18 or younger.

Track Your Headaches

Keeping a headache diary can help you and your doctor identify what's causing your headaches.

  • Note when each headache occurs.

  • Identify your activities and the foods you've eaten 6–8 hours before the headache began.

  • Look for any trends or "triggers."

Signs of Tension Headache

  • Dull pain or feeling of pressure in a tight band around your head

  • Pain in your neck or shoulders

  • Headache without a definite beginning or end

  • Headache after an activity such as driving or working on a computer

Signs of Migraine

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smells

  • Bright spots, flashes, or other visual changes

  • Pain or nausea so severe that you can't continue your daily activities

Call Your Doctor If You Have:

  • A headache that lingers after a recent injury or bump to the head.

  • A fever with a stiff neck or pain when you bend your head toward your chest.

  • A headache along with slurred speech, changes in your vision, or numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.

  • A headache for longer than 3 days.

  • Headaches often, especially in the morning.

 

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