What is a tension headache?
A tension headache
causes constant, steady ache and tightness around your forehead, both temples,
or the back of your head and neck. Usually, pain from a tension headache is
mild to moderate. It doesn't usually keep you from doing your daily tasks. But
the pain can sometimes be severe or continuous and disruptive.
These headaches are common and tend to come back, especially when you are
stress. Tension headaches can last anywhere from 30
minutes to several days.
Unlike other headaches (such as
migraines), tension headaches do not usually cause
nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to both light and noise (although sensitivity
to one or the other is possible), and they are usually not disabling.
If you have tension headaches for 15 days or more a month, you may have
chronic tension headaches.
What causes tension headaches?
The cause of
tension headaches is not clear. Experts believe there may be more than one
factor that causes tension headaches. In the past, doctors believed that
tension or spasms in the muscles of the neck, face, jaw, head, or scalp played
a role. Now they think that a change in brain chemicals may also help cause
What is the treatment for tension headaches?
Treatment for tension headaches may include nonprescription pain
relievers or prescription drugs (such as antidepressants). You may try other
stress management or
biofeedback, to treat or prevent tension
How effective are prescription drugs?
anticonvulsants are drugs that are used to treat
chronic or severe tension headaches. Amitriptyline, a
tricyclic antidepressant, has been proven to greatly reduce how often you get
tension headaches and how long they last. The anticonvulsant divalproex sodium
(for example, Depakote) is also an effective treatment for chronic tension
What are the side effects of these drugs?
effects depend upon the type of drugs you are taking. Overusing pain relievers
may lead to
rebound headaches. If you decide to take drugs for
tension headaches, be sure to take them only as directed by your doctor.
Doctors prescribe antidepressants or anticonvulsants for tension headaches more
often than other prescription drugs.
One of the most common
antidepressants that doctors prescribe to treat tension headaches is
amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant. Generally, side effects of
antidepressants include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, inability to
urinate (urinary retention), weight gain, and problems with low blood pressure
when you stand up. Other antidepressants can cause problems with sexual
performance or ability, and some can lead to potentially serious side effects
when they are combined with foods and other drugs. If you want to try an
antidepressant to treat chronic tension headaches, talk with your doctor about
which antidepressant is right for you.
FDA Advisories. The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) has issued:
advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of
suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines.
Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for
warning signs of suicide. This is especially important
at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are changed.
warning on anticonvulsants and the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. The
FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, people
who take anticonvulsant medicine should be watched closely for
warning signs of suicide. People who take
anticonvulsant medicine and who are worried about this side effect should talk
to a doctor.
If you need more information, see the topic