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How to Get Past Tension Headaches

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Do you have tension headaches or migraines? WebMD has a place to talk about it: Migraines: Open Discussion. continued...

"If you have tension headaches more than 15 days each month, for at least six months, you should consider being on antidepressants," Newman says -- except for individuals with an enlarged prostate or with glaucoma, in whom this type of medication is not recommended. The most common side effects -- dry mouth and difficulty urinating -- are usually avoided by giving low doses at bedtime.

"If antidepressants alone don't work, combination treatment, including stress management, may help," Newman explains. This is the usual approach taken by specialized headache centers and some family doctors, he says.

Stress management therapy in this study involved teaching relaxation techniques and coping skills to the participants.

"Younger patients tend to respond better to stress management therapy," Jerome Goldstein, MD, director of the San Francisco Headache Clinic and Clinical Research Center, tells WebMD when asked for independent comment.

"We can't make all stress go away, so it's important to learn to manage stress," says Lisa K. Mannix, MD, a neurologist in Cincinnati. "While learning and applying stress management techniques may not be a 'quick fix,' the long-term benefits are worth the investment."

Holroyd has a few practical tips for cutting down on stress that can worsen headache:

  • Take breaks from the computer or office work to get up and stretch.
  • Don't cradle the phone receiver between your ear and shoulder.
  • Avoid slumped or strained positions.
  • Keep a diary of headache activity -- this may help identify and eliminate situations that trigger headaches.

"Patients who do not have access to formal stress-reduction programs may consider self-help books on stress reduction or meditation," Morris Maizels, MD, tells WebMD when asked for independent commentary. He was not involved with this study.

"While the last decade has seen major advances in the causes and treatment of migraine, tension-type headaches remain a mystery," says Maizels, a family practitioner with Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Muscle and psychological tension are not always part of tension-type headaches, and tension headaches are often misdiagnosed as migraine, Maizels explains.

"All patients with daily headache should have a medical evaluation, as a small number of these may have an underlying cause," he says.

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