Pain Management and Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults. They are commonly referred to as stress headaches.

A tension headache may appear periodically ("episodic," less than 15 days per month) or daily ("chronic," more than 15 days per month). An episodic tension headache may be described as a mild to moderate constant band-like pain, tightness, or pressure around the forehead or back of the head and neck.

These headaches may last from 30 minutes to several days. Episodic tension headaches usually begin gradually, and often occur in the middle of the day.

The "severity" of a tension headache increases significantly with its frequency. Chronic tension headaches come and go over a prolonged period of time. The pain is usually throbbing and affects the front, top, or sides of the head. Although the pain may vary in intensity throughout the day, the pain is almost always present. Chronic tension headaches do not affect vision, balance, or strength.

Tension headaches usually don't keep a person from performing daily tasks.

Who Gets Tension Headaches?

About 30%-80% of the adult U.S. population suffers from occasional tension headaches; approximately 3% suffer from chronic daily tension headaches. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension-type headaches as men.

What Causes Tension Headaches?

There is no single cause for tension headaches. In some people, tension headaches are caused by tightened muscles in the back of the neck and scalp. In others, tightened muscles are not part of tension headaches, and the cause is unknown.

Tension headaches are usually triggered by some type of environmental or internal stress. The most common sources of stress include family, social relationships, friends, work, and school.

Episodic tension headaches are usually triggered by an isolated stressful situation or a build-up of stress. Daily stress can lead to chronic tension headaches.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tension Headache?

In mild to moderate tension headaches, there is a constant, band-like pain or pressure that lasts from 30 minutes to all day. Other features of tension headaches may include:

  • Headache upon awakening
  • General muscle aches
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Disturbed concentration
  • Mild sensitivity to light or noise
  • Occasional dizziness

How Are Tension Headaches Treated?

Treatment for this type of headache usually includes nonprescription pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Prescription medications (antidepressants, for example) may be needed in some cases.

Therapies such as stress management or biofeedback may be used in an effort to reduce or prevent tension headaches.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 28, 2016

Sources

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic.

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