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Tension Headaches
Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe drugs to prevent and treat tension headaches. Drugs that may help prevent tension headaches include:

  • Tricyclic Antidepressants — Antidepressant drugs have analgesic or pain-relief qualities. Although you may not be depressed, your doctor may prescribe drugs such as amitriptyline or doxepin to help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.
  • Beta-blockers — A drug such as propranolol may be combined with an antidepressant, such as amitriptyline, to prevent chronic daily headaches.
  • Divalproex Sodium — This drug is used to treat chronic daily headache, including chronic tension-type headaches.

Drugs prescribed to treat the pain of tension headaches include:

Nonprescription Pain Relievers — These are usually adequate to relieve mild to moderate pain. They include aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen.

Combination Pain Relievers — The use of these drugs is limited, because overuse can worsen the headache pattern and over time can become habit forming. These drugs often contain butalbital, a barbiturate or narcotics combined with aspirin or acetaminophen.

If your doctor prescribes you medication, be sure to ask:

  • How often the medication should be taken
  • If the medication should be taken with meals or on an empty stomach
  • What to do if pain or other symptoms persist

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Neurology and Neurosurgery

Headache Center
1701 Divisadero St., Suite 480
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 353-8393
Fax: (415) 353-9539
Appointment information

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