Treatment Neurology & Neurosurgery

Tension Headaches
Treatments

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

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

Recommended reading

Keeping a Headache Journal

Keeping a headache journal is a great way to track the location, severity, duration, and any medications that may trigger headaches. Learn more.

Seeking care at UCSF Health

Expand Map

    Share