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This topic is
about tension headaches in adults. If you are looking for
information about migraine headaches, see
If you are looking for
information about tension headaches in children, see
Headaches in Children.
What is a tension headache?
Most headaches are
tension headaches. These headaches tend to happen again and again, especially
if you are under stress. They are not usually a sign of something serious. But
they can be very painful and hard to live with.
Tension headaches can last
from 30 minutes to 7 days.
If you have a headache on 15
or more days each month over a 3-month period, you may have
chronic tension headaches. This
type of headache can lead to
depression, which in turn can lead to
About 4 out of every
100 people in the United States get chronic tension
headaches.1 Symptoms can start in childhood, but they
are more likely to occur during middle age.
Some people have both tension
What causes tension headaches?
Doctors don't know
for sure what causes tension headaches. Experts once thought that tension or
spasms in the muscles of the neck, face, and head played a
role. Now they think that a change in brain chemicals also may be a
Tension headaches are one of the most common types
of headaches. They can be brought on—or
triggered—by things such as stress,
depression, hunger, and
muscle strain. Tension headaches may come on suddenly
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of tension
- A headache that is constant, not throbbing.
You usually feel the pain or pressure on both sides of your
- Pressure that makes you feel like your head is in a vise.
- Aching pain at your temples or the back of your head and neck.
This is different than
migraine headaches, which usually cause throbbing pain
and start on one side of your head.
Tension headaches tend to come
back, especially when you are under stress.
Pain from a tension headache is
usually not severe and does not get in the way of your
work or social life. But for some people, the pain is very bad or lasts a long
How are tension headaches diagnosed?
A doctor can
usually diagnose tension headaches by asking you questions about your health
and lifestyle and by examining you.
How are they treated?
Most people can treat their
tension headaches with
over-the-counter pain relievers
like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or aspirin.
But if you take
these pain relievers more than 3 times a week, you may get
rebound headaches. These are
different from tension headaches. Rebound headaches usually start after pain
medicine has worn off, which leads you to take another dose. After a
while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking the medicine.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine if
you get chronic tension headaches.