Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in these headaches. Tension headaches typically don’t cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. They do cause a steady ache, rather than a throbbing one, and tend to affect both sides of the head. Tension headaches may be chronic, occurring often, or every day.
The exact mechanism that causes a tension headache is not known. Several factors, such as genetics and environment, are thought to be involved. Muscle contractions in the head and neck are considered a major factor in the development of a tension headache. Some people get tension headaches in response to stressful events or hectic days.
These are common symptoms of a tension headache:
The symptoms of tension headaches may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Tension headaches are mainly diagnosed based on the symptoms you report. A thorough medical exam, which may include other tests or procedures, may be used to rule out underlying diseases or conditions.
Tracking and sharing information about your headache with your healthcare provider helps make an accurate diagnosis.
Questions commonly asked during the exam may include:
If the history suggests tension headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further testing may be needed. But, if the headache is not found to be the main problem, then other tests may be needed to determine the cause such as:
The goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Good headache management depends on reducing stress and tension. Some suggestions include:
Identifying and avoiding headache triggers may prevent a tension headache. Maintaining a regular sleep, exercise, and meal schedule is also helpful. If tension headaches occur regularly or frequently, therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback may reduce or eliminate headaches. Talk to your healthcare provider about medicines to prevent tension headaches.
A severe headache that is the “worst headache ever” requires immediate attention.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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