What's the Difference Between Acute and Preventative Headache Care?

Posted on: 24 January 2019

While some people only get headaches occasionally, some people get headaches far more frequently. While standard headaches are relatively easy to manage, some headaches may not respond to regular headache treatments alone.

If you have trouble controlling headaches on a regular basis, then you may get more relief if you use a mix of acute and preventative medications. What's the difference?

What Are Acute Headache Medications?

Acute medications target pain that you already have. For example, if you get a headache and take paracetamol to ease the pain, then this would be classed as an acute medication. You wouldn't take paracetamol to prevent the headache from happening but use it when you first get headache symptoms.

While many acute headache medications, like paracetamol and aspirin, are available to buy over the counter, some may only be available if you have a prescription from a doctor. This typically applies if you need to take a stronger dose of a medicine that's usage needs to be closely monitored and controlled.

What Are Preventative Headache Medications?

Preventative medications are supposed to stop headaches from happening in the first place. If you take this kind of medicine, you usually take it regularly for either a prescribed period or on a permanent basis.

For example, some doctors prescribe daily doses of the hormone melatonin for people who get cluster headaches on an ongoing basis. Others may try to break the cluster headache cycle with a short course of corticosteroids.

These medications aren't painkillers. They won't ease the symptoms of a headache, and you may still have to take acute medications if you do happen to get a headache. They have some merit in headache management terms, as they have a track record of reducing the number of headaches that people might get.

Preventative medications aren't typically something you can buy from a pharmacy or store. Usually, these medications need to be prescribed by a doctor. They aren't used to manage an occasional headache but are generally reserved for people who regularly get a lot of bad headaches that they can't manage with acute medications.

If you do get regular headaches that you can't easily control yourself, then pop into your medical centre to make an appointment with your GP. Your GP can investigate the cause of your headaches and talk to you about ways to manage or reduce them. In some cases, your GP may recommend that you try a preventative medication if you can't find an easier way to make things better.