The 3 Most Common Headaches—And How to Get Relief
Here's help decoding and easing three major types of headaches.
This most common type strikes up to 80 percent of us. Pain is mild to moderate and may feel like a band squeezing both sides of the head, often around the temples. It develops gradually and lasts from 30 to 90 minutes or up to a week. Over-the-counter painkillers can help. But to avoid these headaches, you should address possible triggers, such as stress, tension in the face and neck muscles, poor posture, or clenching or grinding your teeth. Try stress-reduction techniques such as meditation. If the headaches strike 15 or more days per month, they’re considered chronic—so see your doctor.
This type of headache results in moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head, often around the eye, lasting up to 72 hours. You might feel sensitive to lights, sounds, or smells. Some 20 percent of migraine sufferers experience aura— visual sensations like wavy lines, flashing lights, or blind spots—before or during the headache. You may also feel nauseated or vomit. While two or three ibuprofen might stop the throbbing for some, if you get migraines 15 or more days a month, go to your doctor for bigger guns. Top prescription treatments include drugs that constrict blood vessels in the brain. Drugs that may help stave off migraines include beta-blockers; antiseizure medication; antidepressants; calcium channel blockers; and, for chronic migraine only, Botox injections. For natural remedies, coenzyme Q10, vitamin B2, magnesium, and feverfew may help; check with your doctor before trying them. It’s crucial to pinpoint and avoid triggers, which might include stress, changes in sleep schedule, chemicals and preservatives (such as MSG or nitrates), caffeine, changing weather patterns, and hormonal fluctuations. Stress-busting methods that make a difference include yoga, mindfulness meditation, and biofeedback.
Do you get headaches before or during your period? You’re not alone. “One of the strongest triggers of migraine headaches is hormonal change, mostly dropping estrogen,” says Jack Schim, MD. One possible fix: birth control pills, which will prevent the hormone drop. Not on the pill or don’t want to start? Consider a prescription for low-dose estrogen (a patch, gel, or pill). Use it for up to a week, starting three days before your period.