8 Cheap Ways to Prevent or Relieve Headaches

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Constantly popping acetaminophen or ibuprofen can add up, and migraine medications can be expensive. Before you resort to either, try these low-cost, pill-free tips for preventing and treating headaches.

Michael Calderone suffered from incapacitating migraine headaches for decades – until he got plastic surgery. His forehead lift freed entrapped nerves that were causing his migraines, essentially curing him, ABC reported last week.

About 10 percent of the population suffer from migraines, says the Migraine Research Foundation. But more than 90 percent of adults get headaches, says the National Institutes of Health. They’re the most common form of pain – and a major cause of missed work.

I’ve dealt with migraines and non-migraine headaches since high school. I’d get debilitating migraines about once a month, but now it’s closer to once a year. I hardly ever pop my $15-a-pill migraine medication or even acetaminophen anymore.

By learning what triggers, exacerbates, and relieves my headaches, I’ve reduced their occurrences – and discovered the cheapest ways to end them. Not all of these tips work for all headaches or all people, but none of them will cost you much to try…


1. Relax. Stress is the No. 1 headache trigger, according to the Mayo Clinic. To make matters worse, stress-induced headaches can cause more stress – which causes more pain, says WebMD. If you need help unwinding, start with 7 Cheap Ways to Relieve Stress and Why a Massage is Money Well Spent.

2. Don’t skip meals. “Low blood sugar due to skipping breakfast or lunch is a common cause of headaches,” says the University of California-Berkeley.

3. Take your vitamins. A small double-blind study at the University of Cincinnati found that fish oil can decrease the frequency and severity of migraines, reports the National Headache Foundation. Several studies have found that magnesium can help prevent migraines or shorten their duration, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. The center adds, “People who have migraine headaches tend to have lower levels of magnesium compared to those with tension headaches or no headaches at all.”

4. Learn your triggers. Keeping a headache diary can reveal what triggers your headache. Each time you get a headache, note what you were doing at the time, where you were, and what you had recently eaten. It may sound silly, but a diary is the best way to pick up on patterns.


1. Drink water. Even mild dehydration can cause headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s why hangovers often come with headaches – because alcohol can be dehydrating.

2. Drink caffeine. I recently had lunch with a friend who mentioned having a headache, so I told him to order a caffeinated drink. By the time we left the restaurant, his headache was gone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Caffeine can be one of the most effective treatments for headache.” It’s also a common ingredient in over-the-counter and prescription headache medications – because caffeine makes the pain-relieving ingredients work faster and more effectively.

3. Have sex. As ABC News reported a few years ago, doctor and neurology professor James Couch discovered that orgasms could relieve migraines – and sometimes even stop them dead in their tracks. When Couch questioned female migraine patients, 61 percent reported post-coital relief. (That’s almost as much as the latest migraine medications, triptans, which provide relief for 60 to 80 percent of headaches, Couch told ABC.) Another 20 percent reported that sex completely stopped their migraines. (Triptans cure migraines for 30 percent of patients.)

The ABC News article also reports that sex can sometimes cause a headache. But if you’re one of the headache suffers for whom sex is a trigger, you probably already know it – and know to skip this tip.

Not explained, however: How to convince a person in the throes of a migraine to have sex…

4. Talk to your doctor. If nothing else has eased your headaches, they may be secondary headaches, meaning they’re symptoms of an underlying medical condition. The NIH says that strokes, seizures, tumors, head trauma, and other conditions can cause headaches. Even the flu could be to blame. Keep a headache diary and bring it to your appointment. It will give your doctor insight that may help diagnose you.

Stacy Johnson

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