Behind the Medi-Scenes: How Over-The-Counter Headache Treatments Work

Posted by on Oct. 24, 2012

Behind the Medi-Scenes: How Over-The-Counter Headache Treatments Work


A headache can put a damper on anyone’s best days. To make the ache go away within minutes, most people take over-the-counter medication. However, each medicine differs from the other. Before you take these medicines, find out which one is right for you by reading the information below.

Headaches occur when something triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals like prostaglandin by vascular nerves in the head. Headache medicines disrupt this mechanism. These medicines can be abortive or prophylactic.

Analgesics or Abortive Medicines

These are the most commonly used over-the-counter treatments for headaches. Analgesics are used to treat headaches after they begin. This includes aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol. Most analgesics block the inflammatory chemicals that cause pain.

Some analgesics combine the properties of two or more kinds of drugs to combat headache. For example, Midrin is part-sedative, which relaxes your central nervous system and, in effect, keeps you from being too receptive to pain. Midrin also blocks inflammatory chemicals and constricts your vascular nerves.

Prophylactic Medications

If you have chronic or recurring headaches, you may need prophylactic or preventative medications. Most of these work by stimulating your brain to release neurotransmitters that cancel out the painful effects of inflammatory chemicals. Prozac, Topamax, and Depakote are examples of prophylactic medications. Some preventative medications, such as Inderal, simply stabilize your cells to prevent headaches.

Like with other kinds of medications, you must be careful when taking over-the-counter medicines for your headache. You don’t want to end up with something worse than a headache because of improper medicine intake.


[Photo Credit: ragesoss on Flickr]

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