Handling Headache Pain

June 26, 2018

Headaches are a common complaint among patients seeing their primary care physicians, accounting for 1 in 10 visits. Migraines and headaches can be crippling, but you can take measures to manage the pain. The first step to getting the best treatment is to understand what type of headache you have.


Normal Headache or Migraine?

90% of all headaches fall are tension headaches. Up to 78% of Americans will suffer from them at some point. You may have a tension headache if:

  • You have pain on both sides of your head.
  • You have tight pressure rather than throbbing. It might feel like your head is in a vice or that there's pressure all the way around it. You may also feel soreness in your temples, and your neck and shoulder muscles may feel tight.

Migraine headaches are less common. About 12% of the population gets them.

  • A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on just one side of the head.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound often accompany it.

Headache Causes

  • Tension-type headaches are usually brought on by stress, worry, or fatigue. The muscles of your scalp, neck, and jaw tighten, leading to pain.
  • The exact cause of migraine headaches is unclear. Your genes and environment are thought to play roles. You get a migraine when certain chemicals in your brain increase. 
    • Migraines can be brought on by "triggers"—things like changes in your hormone levels or bright lights.

Managing Headaches

Occasional tension-type headaches can often be managed with over-the-counter medicines: aspirin (for adults), acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

  • Caffeine may help. Many headache medicines contain caffeine.
  • For chronic tension-type headaches, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants.
  • Acupuncture and self-relaxation techniques may also help.

For migraines, find out what your triggers are and avoid them. Keep a headache diary to track things like:

  • What you've eaten and had to drink
  • How much sleep you’ve gotten
  • Activities you've taken part in
  • Weather conditions

Abortive medications may stop a migraine on the front-end, if taken as soon as you feel one coming on. Drugstores carry over-the-counter ibuprofen medications just for migraine headaches. If they aren't enough to help, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

If you don't respond to other treatments and you have more than 4 migraine days a month, your doctor may suggest preventive medicines. Electrical devices are now available also to interrupt nerve signals, pulse magnetic energy into the brain or stimulate nerves to give relief from or prevent migraines.

Other treatments that may help with migraine symptoms include self-relaxation techniques, acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga, and exercise.

QualChoice Can Help
Our QCARE health coaches can help you manage stress—a big cause of tension headaches. Call 800.235.7111 or 501.228.7111 and ask to speak to a Care Manager.* And for discounts on health and fitness programs and services, see our QuicRewards offers just for QualChoice members.

*Health plans vary. Check with your employer or plan administrator to see if QCARE is included.