Young white woman sitting on a chair holding her temples

Aspirin for headaches: What you need to know

By Ruben J. Rucoba, MD Apr 29, 2024 • 6 min

Aspirin has been around for more than 100 years. It may be found in nearly every medicine cabinet in America and has a variety of uses. People take aspirin to help reduce fever, inflammation, and relieve pain and muscle aches. And when a headache strikes, aspirin is the medicine that many turn to for relief. There’s good reason for this — aspirin has been shown to be an effective and safe headache reliever for most people. However, it isn’t suitable for everyone or for every type of headache.

Does aspirin help with headaches?

Aspirin can help reduce symptoms of headaches. Aspirin’s main ingredient is acetylsalicylic acid. It is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which means it's not a steroid (like prednisone) but works to fight inflammation, such as that seen in arthritis and muscle sprains. Because of this, aspirin is a very effective pain reliever, including for pain caused by some, but not all, types of headaches.

Can I take aspirin for migraine headaches?

Aspirin may be effective for treating migraines in some people. However, you should consult with your healthcare provider before taking aspirin for a migraine. Aspirin may not be suitable for everyone, and it can cause side effects. Symptoms of a migraine can mimic other health conditions and therefore should be evaluated by your healthcare provider. 

Can I take aspirin for high blood pressure headaches?

If you have high blood pressure and you get a headache, you may need medical attention. Most people who have high blood pressure do not have symptoms, which is why many people are not aware they have high blood pressure. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be a safer choice because it is not an NSAID. If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor to see which pain reliever is best for you.

Can I take aspirin for tension headaches?

Over-the-counter medications, including aspirin, can be taken as a first approach for treating tension headache symptoms. However, you should see your healthcare provider if you get tension headaches frequently. This is important for better pain management and possible prevention.

Can I take aspirin for cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches are complex to treat, likely because the exact cause is unknown and there is no cure. These headaches typically occur suddenly and disappear quickly. Evidence suggests that aspirin and other over-the-counter pain relievers don't usually relieve the pain from cluster headaches. Treatment for this type of headache usually involves fast-acting medicine.

Is there any reason NOT to take aspirin for a headache?

There are several reasons to use caution when considering aspirin for a headache. Aspirin should be avoided by certain people (unless directed by a healthcare provider), including those who:

  • Are children and teens under the age of 19. They should not take aspirin (unless specifically instructed to by a physician) due to the association in this age group between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal illness that causes brain swelling and liver damage.
  • Are allergic or sensitive to NSAIDs 
  • Have peptic ulcers or gastritis; aspirin can cause stomach upset in many cases and bleeding ulcers in the worst cases
  • Have liver or kidney disease
  • Consume three or more alcoholic drinks per day
  • Have uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Are already on a blood thinner
  • Have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia
  • Have asthma
  • Are pregnant

Aspirin may not be appropriate for people with other health conditions or for those who are taking certain medications. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking aspirin. Ask if you have any health conditions or if you’re taking any medications that are contraindicated with aspirin use. 

Aspirin may treat some types of headaches, but there are some people who should refrain from taking it. As with any medication, talk to your doctor before taking aspirin.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRNI, April 2024.

Explore more

11 min
By Ruben J. Rucoba, MD
Apr 29
2 min
By Ruben J. Rucoba, MD
Jun 22
3 min
By Andy Stergachis, PhD, BPharm
Jun 24
6 min
By Jean Cherry, MBA, BSN, WCC
May 29