Tension Headache: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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What is a tension headache?

One of the most common headaches experienced by adults is a tension headache or a stress headache. It is characterized by a dull pain in the head and behind the eyes, sometimes the back of the neck, and a feeling of pressure around the forehead. The person experiencing the headache feels like his head is being squeezed by a clamp. The pain is usually mild to moderate as opposed to the throbbing pain experienced during a migraine.

Why does tension headache occur?

There is no one cause for tension headaches. Numerous factors can come into play such as:

  • stress related to personal and professional life
  • emotional anxiety
  • mental anxiety
  • staring at a computer screen for a long time
  • excessive smoking and drinking
  • drinking too much caffeine
  • depression
  • exhaustion
  • iron deficiency
  • sinus infection
  • inadequate sleep or insomnia
  • hunger
  • skipping meals
  • fever
  • cold
  • flu

Tension headaches are generally of two types:

  • Episodic Tension Headaches - which can last from half an hour to a week. Episodic Tension Headaches occur less than 15 days in a month. If the Episodic Tension Headaches occur more frequently then they become Chronic Tension Headaches.
  • Chronic Tension Headaches - last for hours on end and occur 15 or more days in a month continuously.

If tension headaches disrupt your daily routine and you need to take medicines as frequently as twice or thrice a week you need to consult your family physician or a general physician.

If your headache suddenly becomes severe and you begin to slur while talking, or experience seizures, you need to contact a doctor without delay. Your headache, in this case, could be a symptom of a more serious underlying cause such as an aneurysm, brain tumor, or a stroke.

What are the symptoms of a tension headache? How is a tension headache diagnosed?

The symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • pain and pressure on the forehead, temples and top of the head
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • people are able to go about their daily business despite the pain which is not incapacitating
  • irritability
  • trouble focusing
  • tenderness on scalp, shoulder, and neck muscles

Diagnosis

No specific test is required to diagnose a tension headache. The diagnosis is usually based on your history of headaches, and particular times the headaches start for example, after a stressful time at work, being hungry for a long period etc.
 Your doctor may ask you to take a regular blood test to rule out any abnormality and to find out if there is any iron deficiency. Other than that no CT Scan or MRI is required.

What are the complications of tension headache?

The complications of tension headache are usually the inconvenience caused by the symptoms, such as:

  • lack of attention and focus which can affect your performance at work
  • reduced desire to perform any task
  • feeling of exhaustion
  • disruption in social life

What is the treatment for tension headache?

Medical Treatments For Tension Headache

Usually over the counter medication is available for tension headaches, which are effective.

If you suffer from chronic tension headaches, your doctor may prescribe you some medications to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks. These medicines can also include antidepressants, based on your condition.

Exercising for Managing tension Headache

Exercising will not only help build your muscles, it will also energise your mind and make it fit to cope with any stressful environment. So take some time out to go for that brisk walk whilst observing nature, or for zumba dancing, or aerobics, or for a swim. You’ll find your headaches melting away.

Better still, you can practice the king of all relaxation techniques, Yoga. Yoga will help release the tensions in any area of your body and help you relax physically, as well as mentally.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Tension Headache ?

Patient Experiences

Ashok kodaparthi
Chronic Headache
After taking treatment for my chronic headache I am getting well response. Dr. Deepak is a very kind person and with his counsel I got confident....Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Deepak Rout
Holistic Health Care
Satish
Headache Reduced
It was very releaving after checking my BP and sugar test done at the clinic. The normal levels shown after tests did reduce my headache and I felt better....Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Shobha Talikota
Shobha Wellness & Diagnostics Center
Naresh
Effective Panchkarma Treatment For Headache
I was suffering from headache from many days so consulted dr Hiremath . He advised undergo Panchkarma treatment . prescribed the medicines to take . ...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Shambulingaiah S. Hiremath
Shree Dhanvantari Ayurveda Hospital

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
Experiencing Tension Headaches daily. Just when she thinks for too long, the headaches catches on. From past couple of months, a significant area of scalp has become tender on the back side of the head. Dry skin is falling out from that area of scalp. She has to apply balm to sleep comfortably daily. Please suggest.
Dr. Venkat Raghav
General Physician, Bangalore
Hello, A tension headache is generally a diffuse, mild to moderate pain in your head. Stress is the most commonly reported trigger for tension headache .One way to help reduce stress is by planning ahead and organizing your day. Another way is to allow more time to relax. Do yoga and meditation . Try to relax, don't think too much , Sleep for atleast 7-8 hours . Don't take too much of painkillers. Try breathing exercises.
Verified User
I am suffering from chronic tension headaches from last seven years . i have some thinking problem some irrelavent things comes in mind doctor, will u please help me how i control on my thought process , calms my mind, and concentrate on my studies. i recenty consult a psychiatrist , he gives me stalopalm tablet . but problem is as usual as before consulting.
Dr. Bhupinderjit Kaur Waraich
Psychiatrist, Chandigarh
Escitalopram takes 3-4 wks to start working . Plus at times one needs to increase the dose. If it doesn't work then the medicine can be changed. So keep visiting your doctor. Second, if you start going to the gym, you don't become fit immediately. It takes time. So see a counsellor for 2-3 months regularly. Thoughts are like clouds in the sky. They come and go. Meditation teaches one to bring ones attention back to ones breathing. Keep a time of the day for negative or intrusive thoughts. Then tell them you will listen to them at that time. E.g. 8 pm. At that time write down the thoughts. After a week read out aloud all the thoughts you be written. Also discuss them with a counsellor who will teach you dustraction techniques or how to write alternative thoughts.
Ms. Hema Sampath
Clinical Psychologist, Bangalore
Hi,  I think along with the medication you need to resolve the issues due to which you developed a stress  and reflects as headaches for all these years.
Do introspect the root cause of it and handle that.
You will definitely  come out of this easily.
Dr. Saatiish Jhuntrraa
Psychiatrist, Jaipur
Hi You need a proper diagnosis before suggesting treatment. Pl download YBOCS and see if you fit Revert back Dr Saatiish Jhuntrraa
Dr. Bevin S
Psychiatrist, Chennai
Tension headache is common type of headache occurring usually in females. Stress , sleep disturbances, poor diet all can aggravate the condition. A stressed mind can always have problems in concentration and attention, which in turn can worsen your study performance.
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Did you know?

1.7– 4% adult population affected by tension headaches every 15 days

1.7– 4% of the world’s adult population is affected by tension headache 15 or more days every month.

70% people affected by episodic tension headaches

70 % of some populations report of episodic tension headaches, occurring fewer than 15 days per month.

Women experience more tension headaches

Women are more affected than men by tension headache which is the most common form of headache.

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Home Remedies

Unwind Yourself

Allow yourself to relax by going for a head and body massage to a spa. Your tensions will take a backseat for a while and you will find that tension headache disappearing in no time!

Go Nuts

Instead of popping in pills for that headache, make it a habit to pop in a handful of almonds instead. Almonds contain salicin which is a natural pain reliever. You can also dip a few almonds in filtered water overnight, and then consume them the next morning with half a cup of cooled milk.

Wash The Tensions Away

Take a warm shower which will wash all the tensions away along with the headache.

Be Mindful

Simple meditation and mindfulness techniques can help you calm down, de-stress, and bring your focus to the present moment. The very awareness that all is well, right now, can uplift your mood and dispel those tension headaches for good.

Apply Peppermint Oil

Applying peppermint oil on your temples, forehead and back of your jaw will provide you instant relief as the cooling sensation gradually crawls in. This is a very effective natural remedy for tension headaches.

Take Iron Supplements

Sometimes tension headaches are caused by iron deficiency. Taking iron supplements will have an immediate effect and provide you relief from those headaches.

Keep Yourself Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water and keeping yourself hydrated can make a great difference to your moods. Dehydration causes irritability and headache. Sometimes the answer is as plain as water.

Take Up A Pen

Start jotting down about the tension headache, how bad it is and where exactly is the location of the pain. Also, write down the incidents that took place just before the headache. As you keep writing this journal regularly you will begin to notice a pattern of incidents which triggers the headaches. You will gain more awareness of what disturbs and stresses you the most. ( Tip: It is not what you often think it is. ) At the same time, through writing, as you express your feelings, it can be mentally and emotionally very therapeutic.
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