Self care advice

The most common headache is a tension-type headache – the one we think of as ‘ordinary’ or ‘everyday’ headache which tends to be mild to moderately severe and affects both sides of the head. It usually feels ‘pressing’ or ‘tightening’ and is not affected by routine daily activities.

Migraine is a moderate or severe throbbing headache affecting one or both sides of the head and made worse by ordinary daily activities.

As many as four in five people have occasional tension-type headache from time-to-time, and up to one in five suffer migraines.

What can I do to get better?

  • Keep a headache diary and record how often you get headaches, how long they last, and whether they are mild, moderate or severe. This can be helpful to determine whether your headaches follow a particular pattern and shows how they respond to treatment, which is useful when you need to discuss them with a health professional.
  • Try to get plenty of rest and sleep and use every opportunity to relax.
  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (ideally water) a day. Avoid alcohol and take regular meals. Various painkillers are available without prescription from your pharmacist and needs to take into account other medical conditions, other medicines and the risk of potential side effects. Avoid taking painkillers for headaches for more than 10 to 15 days per month.

When should I seek medical advice?

  • Your headaches become more and more frequent.
  • You vomit for no apparent reason or have a high fever. You develop a stiff neck or feel drowsy.
  • You suffer from persisting headaches after a blow or other injury to your head (though a mild headache for one to two days after a head injury is common and usually harmless).
  • Your headache prevents you from getting to sleep or wakes you.
  • Your headache is worse on coughing, straining, bending, lying flat or laughing.
  • You notice a change in speech or personality.
  • You develop weakness, numbness or other odd sensations anywhere on your body, or you feel unsteady on your feet.
  • You develop a sudden severe headache, like ‘being hit with a hammer’.
  • Your eyes feel really uncomfortable when looking at bright light, or you suffer other new eye symptoms, such as sudden blind spots.
  • You have muscle pains, pain on chewing, a tender scalp, or feel unwell.