What Medication Are You Taking for Stress Related Headaches?

Updated on August 17, 2010
K.A. asks from Jacksonville, AR
14 answers

I was diagnosed with stress related headaches as a young elementary student. I can remember taking a daily medication for it as a child for several years. I have continued to have them all my life, but for the last 2 years they have lasted 2 and 3 days at a time. I went to the doctor about 6 months ago and told her that I could not take it anymore. I described the symptoms as if I had never been diagnosed before and she too told me that they were stress headaches. She prescribed a medication to take at the start of a headache to see if it would work. The bottle says to take 1 to 2 tablets, which ever relieves the pain, every 4 hours as needed. I have to take 2 at a time. Usually it will nip it in the bud after about 30 minutes but occasionally it takes 2 to 3 doses. I am currently taking BUTALBITAL/APAP/CAFFEINE TABS. Is anyone taking anything different and how does it work for you? I am so sick of being incapacitated with headaches. I am miserable and my children are miserable when I have one because I make them find quiet activities sometimes for days in a row. My husband has never complained about the junk we eat when I have one, but it really is not fair to him or the kids to have corn dogs or chicken nuggets for super because I hurt to bad to fix something healthy and more tasty. Tonight, unless I get relief, we are have chicken patty sandwiches. We have never had that before and my husband brought a bag of Tyson breaded chicken breast patties home about 2 weeks ago and I thought they might like that for a change and it would not be much work.

When I have one of these headaches, the whole right side of my head, the right side of my neck, and my across the top of my right shoulder are in severe pain. Sometimes it feels as if my head could explode. I have difficulty using my right arm because every movement intensifies the pain. Occasionally, the pain becomes so intense that I become nauseated. I can not even get relief by lying down. Imagine feeling like that for 2 to 3 days in a row. Horrible.

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So What Happened?

Ok, after reading all of the post thus far, I feel that I need to add that I am not taking any birth control. My tubes are tied. And also, I am allergic to Aspirin which keeps me from taking most over the counter migraine meds. I asked my doctor if they were migraines and she said no, but when I do research on the symptoms I get info for Stress Related Migraines. I have gone to a Chiropractor off and on for years and she does do massages, as well as having gone to Physical Therapy for Whiplash injury's from a wreck in my early 20's. None of this seemed to help and I often left with a headache. I do have an aunt who also suffers from them and I quite possibly inherited them. Thanks So Much for the answers thus far and I would welcome more answers if anyone can add any.

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answers from New York on

I've had less headaches since I cut certain food additives out of my diet. I read labels carefully things like frozen foods, canned soup even some "healthy" type foods. I eliminated MSG (monosodium glutomate) and autolyzed yeast extract and yeast from my diet> It's worth a try! no rebound headaches from taking medication. good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

I get stress triggered migraines that sound almost identical to your stress headaches that almost no med can touch (imatrex can, but I prefer not to take it because it makes me sleepy), and sudafed (the real stuff, not the PE antihistamine crapola) if it's a sinus triggered migraine.

For the stress headaches, however, weekly or twice monthly massage nixes them almost completely. Maybe 1 headache a month tops... as opposed to several a week. And that 1, is usually sinus related, so I can stomp on it with sudafed.

Without the massage, however, my headaches come in waves. Often lasting for several days making it impossible to sleep or function very well. Most insurance companies will pay for massage for migraine relief. The lowest I've paid while on insurance is $6 per massage, and the highest is a standard office copay of $15. This is with the same practitioner that I have to pay $75 out of pocket if I don't have insurance.

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answers from Portland on

I've had at least distinctly different types of headaches, and stress is one of them. So sorry. I used to go through pain relievers by the bottle and got only slight relief.

Until (insert drum roll…) I discovered Ear Pulls. Quite by accident, and out of desperation. I learned 30 years ago that lying as comfortably as possible, with my arms, neck and back supported, I can pull, press, knead, squeeze and fold my ears for as little as 10 minutes, focusing on tender spots I locate, and almost every headache almost always goes away. Completely gone.

I've done this for other people, too, and they've picked up on it and spread the word. I'm surprised the whole world hasn't heard about it by now. It's a nice, nice way to give yourself a relaxing break, and a lovely thing to do for people you love. My husband claims that between my ear rubs and my cleavage, he had no choice but to marry me.

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answers from Hickory on

I'm not really familair with all the meds you mentioned and am fortunate I am not on any. However, I did have stress headaches a few years back - nothing like what you mentioned. Mine were senstive to light, pain in forehead and down to neck and sometimes all I could do was lay down and sleep it off. But if I were in a meeting, I would be squiting the whole time and rushed home afterwards. It was difficult to drive or hold a conversation with anyone. I talked to my gyno and she prescribed some meds in a small packet. Take 2 every 4 hours as needed, but I couldn't taken them until I was home. I took them for a few months and then didn't need them anymore. The were pretty powerful. I hope you'll be able to find something that helps.

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answers from Birmingham on

It sounds like I could have written your email with my history of headaches which I am glad are over. Through my 20s, I had terrible headaches that would make me disfunctional and I hated it and was stressed about them happening even when I didn't have one. At the time, I was on birth-control pills and I loved taking them, but my dr. recommended that I stop and see if it affected my pattern of headaches. It did ... but I also got pregnant (blessing for us!) and afterwards we decided to end our chances of any more pregnancies and I did not take my birth control pills any longer. This particular dr. thought they might be affected by the hormones and for me, I guess they were. Whenever I would have them though I would take Excedrin Migraine and it would work AMAZINGLY well for me ...better than any prescription meds and not make me drowsy. I know how terrible these can be since I suffered with them for about 10-12 years. I hope you find what might be contributing to yours and get some relief. IF nothing seems to help, try seeing a neurog. and have an MRI done. If the area in the back of your skull/base of your head/center very top of your neck where the spinal cord starts going down your neck to your back is too small, you might be having pressure to build up and this is often not diagnosed until late teens/20's and is often misdiagnosed as migrains. Treatment is available for this condition (surgery, but is worth it from what I've studied!).



answers from Tulsa on

I have headaches like that too, some friends think they are migraines but to me pain is pain and headache pain is almost always there. I use ice bags to reduce inflammation in my joints and muscles, I use gentle stretches to reduce the tension too.

One I really like is the pillow stretch. You know when you were a kid helping mom make the bed? You would take the pillow and stick it under your chin? Then pull the pillowcase on? That is a good exercise to stretch out those upper back and neck muscles. Take a thick bed pillow and stick it under your chin and press your chin towards your upper sternum. Slowly and gently this stretches those muscles out. It relaxes muscles that are usually hard to get to move. By getting the upper back muscles relaxed and the blood flowing better you can help stop the headaches before they start.

Another stretch that gets the sternum and upper back is a doorway stretch. Stand in a small doorway, put your hands on the door frames closest to you then lean forward through the doorway. Your collarbones and arm joints will feel this one the most. It's like doing a push up in the doorway. These muscles hardly ever get stretched out. There are lots of exercises that you can find by googling stretching exercises.

One thing that often gets a headache going is not sitting properly when doing something like watching TV, being on the computer, reading a book, etc...if I take a moment and put a small pillow behind my neck or turn it up and down to get it just right to support my upper back and neck then I won't have the neck and back pain. Stopping the tension and muscle tightness is the key to stopping the headaches for me.

Often the pain is associated with inflammation due to the muscles being so stressed and "worked up". I had a physical therapist tell me to take small up to med. size Styrofoam cups and fill them about 2/3 full the freeze them. Water expands as it freezes, learned that on McGuyver, and that makes the water have a dome on the top. When I am feeling a lot of pain in my back and neck I will get one of those cups and peel off the part and expose the dome. I have my husband rub/massage my upper back and neck with the ice and it works and I can feel the inflammation going away. By using Styrofoam he can really get a grip on it and press firmly, the Styrofoam insulates it so his hands only feel cool not cold. I also use those freezer bags made with jell and lean/lay on them to help too. Of course you don't want to freeze the areas so be cautious about the amount of time,no more than a few minutes in one area.

Another thing is using a swimming pool. The cool water reduces inflammation too and helps you relax while you play, swim, etc....



answers from Lafayette on

I agree that is sounds like you have migraines. I was given a prescription medicine for mine (Maxalt, I believe is the name). They are very expensive so I don't take them unless OTC brands have not worked or if I can tell from experience that it's just not going to go away. I use Excedrine Migraine when I don't take my migraine pills. I also find if it's really bad I will take 2 Excedrine Migraines and two sinus pills. Good Luck!!!


answers from Oklahoma City on

I get headache's quite often too, i take advil migrane, and it works so well for me...and (this one is weird) if it gets strong enough i even have someone put pressure on my head in the exact location that my headache is...that sometimes works, but advil migrane is my miracle

have you tried having someone put pressure on the area that hurts...pressure works like a charm for me



answers from Tulsa on

That sounds like migraines to me. I get migraines as well as stress headaches, and have all my life. I had to change my form of birth control because the former one caused me migraines about every other day. On the new form I am down to perhaps once every two weeks or less, which is better, though not where I was before having children! I, too, take fioricet for these headaches.

I have had some good relief from osteopathic manipulative techniques (practiced by D.O.s, a.k.a. osteopathic physicians) which release the tension in my muscles and put my skeleton and muscles in proper alignment. OMT is generally more gentle and holistic than chiropracty, which is an offshoot of the medical practice not requiring the study of anatomy, physiology, or other medical studies. Something else my husband (an R.N.) has suggested is to hyperventilate as soon as I can tell a headache is coming on, and then stop when I start feeling a little dizzy and lie down and rest a little (generally I do that on the couch so I can supervise my kids). He learned this from a doctor at the hospital where he works - the principle is that migraines are caused by dilation of the blood vessels in the brain. Hyperventilation pulls blood from the brain and causes the blood vessels to constrict again. I've tried this the past two weeks, since I learned about it, and I've been able to stop most of the headaches.



answers from Nashville on

It really sounds like you have migraine. I was diagnosed with migraine when I was 17 and just starting college. Of course, my mom had migraine and her mom had it as well. It's extremely hereditary. Does anyone in your family suffer from migraine? After having so many terrible headaches, my mom suspected they were migraines and took me to see her neurologist & sure enough.........I can remember it so clearly. I was sitting there and he said, "look at your mom" So, I did. And then he said, "say thanks mom!" So, I did. And then he said, "you definitely have migraine". LOL Mom cried. She hated that I was having to deal with all she had to deal with. But, it really is controlable. What I've found to work the very best is kind of a "cocktail". Right when you realize that the headache is starting to gain intensity, take 2 Advil and 2 Excedrine. Something about the combination of the ibuprofen & acetaminophen really helps. Also, Excedrine has a little caffeine in it as well. I actually take the generics from Walmart. So, I buy the Equate Ibuprofen and the Equate Headache Relief (which will be right next to the Excedrine). It's much cheaper! And I swear they work even better than the name brand! Give a try and see if it works for you. I really hope it does!!!!!!



answers from Portland on

I've had headaches all of my life and do take the same pill you described. They only help if I take 2 pills the minute I have a headache. If I wait they don't seem to help any. Sometimes I can stop a headache with OTC ibuprofen, 600 mg, which is a prescription dose. I got started using that much when my doctor prescribed 600 mg in one huge pill.

Your headaches, as you describe them sound, more like migraine. My daughter has headaches that sound similar to yours and her doctor prescribed a high powered migraine medication. It costs $10/pill and she doesn't have good insurance coverage. She found that taking an OTC migraine combination pill worked well if she immediately took it at the first sign of a headache and continued taking them every 4 hours until it was gone.

I also have found that if I lay down with my neck and base of my head on a heating pad that sometimes helps. Stress causes the muscles to tense and the heat helps them relax. I have a moist heating pad that heats up in the microwave that works better than dry heat.

You could also have a muscle that pinches a nerve when it tenses up. Massage might help release the nerve. I had an evaluation with a neurologist who found some minor nerve damage in my arm. He prescribed neurontin, also known as gabepentan (sp?) that really did get rid of the pain fast.

My brother has shoulder pain due to nerve damage and takes gabepentan. When I was first prescribed it, pain management was off label but I think it's approved for pain now and your doctor could prescribe it.

I suggest that you try it. I don't remember it making me drowsy. I remember going to work while taking it and I couldn't have done that if it disabled me at all.



answers from Monroe on

Unfortunately, I feel your pain. I have had migraines since I was 10 years old. I used to get them once a year but they gradually got worse in my mid to late 20s until I was getting them once a week with vomiting every week. I was taking the butalbital you mentioned also. I read a book called "Heal your headaches" by David Buccholz and found it to be very helpful. I still get headaches almost weekly but I can at least control them so that I can function. I take a combination of Tylenol and Aleve (2 capsules) whenever I get them and of course if it is taken soon enough, it works well. By the way, I don't follow all of the diet recommendations in the book anymore but initially I did. Chocolate and red wine have to be consumed in limited quantities for me and I am off of caffeine and nuts. Hope this helps. Sorry to hear of your pain. Your description sounds exactly like my migraines.



answers from Oklahoma City on

Hello K.,

So sorry to hear about your headaches, I know they can be debilitating. However, would you like to be medication free? Would you like to wake up and find yourself full of energy and happy? Would you like to be the kind of mom that you know you can be?

Have you ever thought of trying massage? It is very effective on headaches of all kinds for several reasons.

Relaxing or releasing the tension in the neck, upper back and shoulders and around the base of the occipital (back of the skull) does wonders, as does relaxing of the entire body. Regular massage contributes to a release of the acid that builds up in the body from normal body functions. Stress causes additional acid accumulations in the body, and fatigue of the adrenal glands.

If you like, you can email me, or call me, and we can just chat. There are things that you might try with your diet that may help you. Most don't know that their liver and kidneys have a life-time limit of how much medication you can take untill you get into liver and kidney troubles.... so you might start thinking of looking away from which medications others are taking.
Give me a call or email,
L. the massage therapist
[email protected]____.com



answers from Tuscaloosa on

I'm a physical therapist, and it sounds to me like whatever is causing the stress headaches is not going away, but coming back again and again. You might really benefit from some muscle work/massage. You can try a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist. They all do things a little differently, but also do some of the same things. Personally, I would do the ear pulls someone mentioned, stretching, massage, and some other manual techniques to someone who came to me with headaches. I've had very good luck even getting rid of migraines. It's so much better if you don't have to take all that medication! Good luck.

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