Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Font Size

Tension Headaches - Topic Overview

Is this topic for you?

This topic is about tension headaches in adults. If you are looking for information about migraine headaches, see Migraine Headaches.

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 stress and depression, which in turn can lead to more headaches.

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 headaches and migraine headaches.

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 cause.

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 or slowly.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • A headache that is constant, not throbbing. You usually feel the pain or pressure on both sides of your head.
  • 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 time.

    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Business woman with hand on face and eyes closed
    What aura looks like, triggers, and more.
    woman with migraine
    Get the truth about migraines.
    headache in the bedroom
    Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
    woman with hands on head
    Test your knowledge of triggers, types, and more.
    woman with migraine
    drinking coffee
    Migraines Headaches Basics
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    Tired young man
    spraying perfume
    man with a headache
    headache in the bedroom