Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches and affect more than 20% of the population. Frequently, tension headache sufferers turn to over-the-counter medications for relief.

A recent study indicates that medication containing a combination of acetylsalicylic acid, (aspirin), acetaminophen, and caffeine is more effective than acetaminophen alone.

Researchers led by Hans-Christoph Diener, MD, of the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, conducted an analysis of four previous studies that included the treatment of nearly 2,000 individuals and more than 6,800 headache episodes, including 2,215 that were severe.

Individuals were more likely to be pain-free 2 hours after taking the combination medication (28.5%) compared to acetaminophen (21%) or placebo (18%). The results were similar for those who reported severe headache (20.2% versus 12.1% and 10.8%) Additionally, patients reported that daily activities were no more difficult than normal as little as 1 hour after treatment with the triple combination medication.

“Clearly, the combination offers an important alternative when APAP (aspirin) alone is not effective enough,” authors said.

They noted that caffeine is the component that makes the combination so effective and that patients who take an analgesic without caffeine need about 40% more medication to get the same relief as patients taking the same analgesic with caffeine.

The study was funded by Novartis Consumer Health of Switzerland and appeared in the The Journal of Headache and Pain