Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Headache medication

2-minute read

Understanding headache medication

Most people have headaches occasionally. They can happen without any obvious cause or they may be caused by a health problem.

Most headaches are not serious. You can treat them yourself. Most headache medication is available over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.

Types of headache medication

The main medications for headaches are pain relief medicines. These include paracetamol, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. You can also buy medications containing a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen from a pharmacy. You will need a prescription from a doctor to buy a pain relief medicine that contains codeine.

If you have frequent headaches, your doctor may suggest medication to prevent them. This might include a very low dose of an antidepressant (much lower than you would take to treat depression). There may be side effects including dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness, constipation and weight gain.

If you have migraines, there are particular medicines or combination medicines that can help. These include pain relief medicines, anti-nausea medication and triptans (medication that contracts or tightens the blood vessels around your brain). There are also medications to prevent migraines including beta-blockers and amitriptyline.

Important information about headache medication

If you take pain relief medicines, it is important that you understand how to use them safely. For instance, you may already be taking pain relief medicines in your cough and cold remedies or medicines for arthritis. It’s important not to take more than the recommended daily amount as this can lead to serious side effects.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist so you don’t accidentally take more than you should.

If you have a lot of headaches or have symptoms that worry you, see your doctor.

You should also see your doctor if you have migraines. It’s good to work out how to keep them away, if you can, and how to make them less severe.

If you are worried about taking medicines for your headache, ask your doctor or pharmacist about:

  • the benefits of medicine for headache
  • the risks of different types of medicine for headache

Your doctor or pharmacist will help you decide which medicines are suitable.

Looking for more medicine information?

healthdirect’s medicines section allows you to search for medicines by brand name or active ingredient. It provides useful information about medicines such as their use, whether they are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and product recalls.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Headaches & how to treat them

Learn about different types of headaches to make an informed choice about treatment, including pain relief. 

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Acute Medication - Headache Australia

Acute medication is treatments taken at the onset of a migraine attack to reduce the symptoms associated with migraine.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Treatment of Headache - No Absolute Cure

There is no absolute cure for the treatment of headache. There are however many effective treatments which can treat a headache and prevent them.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Taking medicines in pregnancy - NPS MedicineWise

If you are thinking of taking a medicine while you’re pregnant, take your doctor's advice and consider the risks and benefits.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Long weekend drinks and your medicines may be a dangerous cocktail - NPS MedicineWise

The upcoming long weekend may lead some of us to overindulge – and NPS MedicineWise is reminding people that alcohol and medicines can be a dangerous cocktail

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Treatment Options - Headache Australia

Treatment options for migraine attacks.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Cluster Headache - Headache Australia

Cluster headache is an extraordinarily painful, rare chronic disease affecting five times as many men as women.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Is preventive treatment right for me? Headache Australia

Is preventive treatment right for me? Take these 4 questions to see whether preventative treatment may be appropriate for you. Print out your results.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Your Doctor and Your Headache - A Vital Partnership

Many headache sufferers do not consult a doctor. A recent study showed that 50% of migraineurs had not sought medical advice & had not been diagnosed.

Read more on Migraine and Headache Australia website

Medicines and Procedures - Pain Management - painHEALTH

Learn about the various types of medicines and procedures that are available that may be able to form part of your musculoskeletal pain management plan

Read more on painHEALTH website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo