woman with bad headache sitting on the couch with her head in her hands

7 Ways to Prevent Headaches

October 07, 2016

Sick of a banging head? Looking for ways to prevent headaches? We're sharing some useful tips to get the better of them.

We've almost all had one at some stage in our lives. Headaches can be annoying but they can also be seriously painful, and in some cases debilitating. If you're prone to headaches, certain lifestyle factors may be playing a part. We take a look at some simple steps you can take to get a handle on them and hopefully make regular headaches a thing of the past. Here's 7 ways to prevent headaches.

Types of Headaches

Many suffer from headaches on a regular basis and it's one of the most common reasons people visit their GP. Headaches can be at best uncomfortable and at worst worrisome or debilitating - they range in type and severity but for the majority of headaches, it's important to note, there is no serious cause.

The most common types of headache are tension type headache (TTH), migraine and cluster headaches. Each has its own classic pattern and some people may suffer from more than one type of headache.

Underlying Cause?

People often fear that their headaches, especially if severe or recurrent, may have a serious underlying cause such as meningitis or a bleed or growth in the brain. Thankfully this is a relatively rare occurrence and usually a visit to your doctor can be enough to provide reassurance through careful eliciting of symptoms and physical examination. In a small number of cases a scan may be needed to complete the picture.

For the majority, there are several simple steps that can ease the symptoms and frequency of painful but otherwise harmless headaches. Here are some useful ways to prevent headaches.

Ways to Prevent Headaches

There are some simple steps you can take to get the better of headaches. Things like getting enough rest and keeping your water bottle topped up can make a difference. Read on for some more useful ways to prevent headaches. 

1. Avoid Regular Use Of Pain Killers

It may seem counterintuitive but regular headache sufferers may get into the habit of frequently using over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medication to ease their symptoms.

The body can become used to these medications, especially those containing codeine or caffeine and missing a dose may cause a ‘rebound’ or ‘withdrawal’ headache. Stopping regular use of medication for a time may actually improve the frequency or severity of headaches.

2. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration makes any headache worse and caffeine withdrawal can exacerbate symptoms. Switching your coffee to water or to herbal teas may help symptoms. It's important to stay hydrated so regularly drink water and up your intake during warmer weather. 

3. De-Stress

Headaches, especially migraine and tension type headache can be triggered or exacerbated by stress. Therefore, it's common sense that any measures to combat this and to relax the body may improve headaches. Relaxation techniques, meditation and acupuncture have all been shown in studies to improve either the severity or frequency of headaches.

4. Exercise Regularly

That old chestnut! 30 minutes exercise, most days of the week, is advised to help almost any health condition and headache is no exception. Yoga can be particularly helpful for sufferers of TTH which is associated with tight musculature in the neck and upper back. Managing muscle tension with application of heat and paying attention to posture and ergonomics at desk work is also beneficial.

5. Good Sleep Habits 

If you follow the above ways to prevent headaches, it should set you up for a more restful night’s sleep. There are some sleep habits you might need to take a look at too. Eye strain from reading in low light may trigger headaches as can too much ‘screen time’ before or in bed.

If tension type headaches are a problem, avoid sleeping on greater than two pillows as it may trigger neck strain. Headaches including migraine may be triggered by fatigue. Even if more sleep does not reduce the occurrence of headache, it may well leave you better able to cope with the symptoms if they hit.

6. Eat a Healthy Diet

As ever, following a balanced, sensible diet is important. Eat regularly, avoid missing meals and fill up on slow-release energy foods such as whole grains, nuts and seeds. Avoid excessive sugar, processed foods, salt and alcohol. Migraine sufferers may wish to avoid certain trigger foods such as cheese, red wine or chocolate.

7. Don’t smoke!

For some migraine sufferers, smoke can be a trigger. The nicotine in cigarettes constricts the blood vessels in your brain, reducing blood flow to the brain and surrounding tissues which can trigger a migraine or cause a headache. So how to get around this? Don't smoke. 

Final Note...

So remember, most headaches are harmless. If you have a new or sudden headache you are worried about, you should talk to your health professional. For most, a comprehensive examination and diagnosis provides much needed reassurance and scans are not always needed to achieve this. Some types of headaches may benefit from specific medication but for most, following the simple steps above should help to reduce severity or frequency of symptoms.

Please note, this blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice.

It’s always best to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements, treatments or remedies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.

Checked and updated: 5 September 2021