Medication for Headache in Adults

Many people with primary headaches—those not caused by an underlying health condition—can control their symptoms with medication. NYU Langone experts can develop a personalized medication plan to address and prevent headache attacks.

Medication prescribed for headaches falls into one of two categories: preventive, which means it’s taken on a daily basis to decrease the frequency of headaches, or abortive, meaning it’s taken during a headache to counteract the pain.

Preventive Treatment

Several types of medications, including antiepileptic medications, antidepressants, and those used to control blood pressure, can effectively prevent headaches. You and your doctor decide on a medication plan based on your symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests, with the goal of preventing future headaches and lessening the associated pain.

Preventive medication is typically prescribed on a short-term basis to manage headache symptoms. Some people take medication for three to six months and are able to taper off the medication and eventually live without headache pain.

Your doctor closely monitors your response to medication to provide optimal pain relief and to minimize side effects, such as lethargy, dry eyes or mouth, or dizziness.

Abortive Treatment

Abortive medications are used only when you are experiencing a headache attack. They are taken at the first sign of a headache.

Common types of abortive medications include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications—such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen—as well as a class of prescription medications called triptans.

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