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Over-the-Counter Drugs and Head Pain

Some can work well, but use with caution.


Updated: December 5, 2003

Over-the-Counter Meds

Headaches and Migraines can be so intolerable that it's easy to think that only prescription medications will work to relieve the pain, but over-the-counter (OTC) medications are often very helpful, and may be all you need for many episodes. Especially when taken early, these medications can be quite effective. 

The recent proliferation of OTC headache and Migraine medications is astounding. It's also somewhat confusing. First there are so many different brands of pain relievers. Then each brand has tablets, capsules, caplets, coated tablets, gelcaps, liqui-gels, and so on. They come in regular strength, night-time formula, extra strength, buffered formulas, children's formula, and now Migraine pain formula. I'm bound to have left out something, but please don't tell me -- I'm confused enough as it is. 

Let's see if we can simplify matters a bit. The primary ingredient in most OTC pain relievers is aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or a combination of them. The best way to choose is by determining which of these ingredients works best for you. You'll find some basic information on each of these on page 3 of this article. Strange as it may seem since caffeine can trigger headaches and Migraines, caffeine is often an ingredient in OTC pain relievers. It is added to make the other ingredients work more quickly.

When choosing an OTC, look at the ingredients. If you have stomach problems, you may want to avoid those with aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, choosing acetaminophen instead. Speaking of stomach problems, if you tend to experience nausea with headaches and Migraines, you may want to try taking an anti-nausea medication at the beginning of a headache. Ridding yourself of the nausea can go a long way toward making you feel better in general, and will make it easier to keep medication down.

Points to remember about OTCs:

  • OTCs, especially when taken at the beginning of a headache or Migraine, can be quite effective.
  • Check the label for ingredients, and choose carefully.
  • Check potential side effects just as you would with prescription drugs.
  • If you are taking prescription drugs, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking OTCs.
  • Taking OTC pain relievers more than two consecutive days can cause rebound headache
  • There are special considerations for teens taking OTCs. For more information, click HERE.
  • Over-the-counter drugs can have major interactions with prescription medications. If you are taking prescription medications, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking OTCs.

>> Please click the link below to go on to "The New OTC Migraine and Tension Headache Medications"<<

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