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Daily Headache Prevention


Jennifer Larson

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For most people, a headache is just an occasional bother. A nuisance, easily fixed with a couple of analgesics and a glass of water. But for others, headaches are commonplace, happening all too often, on more days than not.

This type of frequent headache is often called a chronic daily headache. It describes a situation when you experience a headache at least 15 days out of the month, for at least three months. About 4 percent of the adult population in the U.S. experience a headache that falls into this category.

Rule out other causes.

As the American Migraine Foundation notes, the daily persistent headache is a primary headache syndrome, meaning there’s no other underlying cause. So before diagnosing you with a daily headache, your doctor will also want to rule out secondary causes of headache such as cerebrovascular disease, infections, musculoskeletal disorders, or medication overuse (more on that below). You might need to undergo an MRI or other tests to be sure. If an underlying condition is causing the headache, treatment for that condition may eradicate the headaches.

Determine the diagnosis.

Before you can embark on a prevention strategy, you have to know what kind of daily headache you’re dealing with. You may experience short-duration headaches, or you may be dogged by long-duration chronic daily headaches. A typical short-term daily headache might last three or four hours, but a long-duration version will persist longer. There are several major types of long-duration primary chronic daily headaches:

  • Chronic tension headache. This tends to be the most common version. The pain can be mild to moderate and usually affects both sides of the head.

  • Chronic migraine. Pulsating pain characterizes the chronic migraine, which can affect one or both sides of the head. Nausea and sensitivity to light or noise are other common hallmarks.

  • New daily persistent headache. It starts quickly. People who experience this type of headache can often tell you the exact time the headache started. It can mimic a chronic migraine or a chronic tension-type headache, but it can be harder to treat than either one.

  • Hemicrania continua. This type of headache is fairly rare, and when it does occur, it tends to occur in women more often than men. It’s sometimes called a continuous headache, since it’s characterized by an ongoing pain occasionally interrupted by a jolt of sharper pain.

Don’t just pop a painkiller.

Tempted to pop a painkiller to ward off a looming headache? Not so fast. You might wind up with a secondary headache known as a medication overuse headache, or rebound headache. These headaches tend to require larger and larger doses of analgesics, even as the medications work less and less effectively. Suddenly you’re taking a lot of medication but still grimacing your way through a headache more often than not. Frequent use of analgesics, taken alone or in combination, is usually the culprit.

Other common characteristics of medication overuse headaches:

  • Frequency of headaches increases

  • Nighttime headaches occur

  • May resemble tension-type headaches, even if the original headache was a migraine

  • Lower tolerance for stress, which triggers headaches.

Investigate the right medication.

Medication can help, but it can get tricky. The American Headache Society advises being cautious about taking pain relievers to treat your chronic headache pain too often. Your doctor can talk to you about the best way to approach using painkillers, which could include limiting the days that you take them or alternating other medications with them.  The type of headache you experience will also determine which painkillers are most likely to work for you.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 2, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Chronic Daily Headache. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  2. Chronic Daily Headaches. Mayo Clinic.
  3. Garza I and Schwedt TJ. Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Daily Headache. Semin Neurol. 2010;30(2):154-166.
  4. Halker RB, et al. Chronic Daily Headache: An Evidence-Based and Systematic Approach to a Challenging Problem. Neurology. February 15, 2011 vol. 76 no. 7 Supplement 2 S37-S43.
  5. Hemicrania Continua. American Migraine Foundation.
  6. Mack KJ. Never Too Young for Chronic Headaches. American Headache Society.
  7. New Daily Persistent Headache. American Migraine Foundation.
  8. Rebound Headaches. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  9. Silberstein SD. Medication Overuse Headache. American Headache Society.
  10. Wilson M and Lal S. Medication Overuse Headache. American Headache Society.

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