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Classification of Tension Headaches

Tension-type headaches are classified as:1

  • Infrequent episodic. You may have this type of headache if you get a headache less often than 1 day a month (or fewer than 12 days a year). The pain is mild to moderate. You may feel pressure or tightening across your forehead (like a "vise grip") and at your temples, back of your head, or neck. You may have pain on both sides of your head. You also may feel sensitive to light or noise (but not both). This type of headache doesn't cause nausea or vomiting. These headaches don't get worse with physical activity.
  • Frequent episodic. You may have this type of headache if you have a headache on more than 1 day but fewer than 14 days each month (or more than 12 but fewer than 180 days a year). The pain is mild to moderate. You may feel pressure or tightening across your forehead (like a "vise grip") and at your temples, back of your head, or neck. You may have pain on both sides of your head. You also may feel sensitive to light or noise (but not both). These headaches don't cause nausea or vomiting, and they don't get worse with physical activity.
  • Chronic. You may have chronic tension headaches if you have a headache on 15 or more days each month for at least 3 months (or more than 180 days a year). The location of pain and pressure is the same as an episodic tension headache. But with chronic tension headaches, you may feel nausea (but without vomiting). You also may be sensitive to light or noise. These headaches can sometimes be confused with migraine headaches. Chronic tension headaches may last for days at a time and usually do not get better when you use pain relievers. Although the pain may be mild to moderate, the constant pain can become disabling. People who have anxiety or depression may get these headaches often.

Citations

  1. International Headache Society (2004). Tension-type headache (TTH). Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache, 24(Suppl 1): 37-43.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised July 7, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 07, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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