Tension headaches: symptoms, causes and treatments


Tension headaches are very common and almost everyone will experience a tension headache at some point in their life. There are many ways to manage tension headaches, from healthy habits, to medications, and non-drug treatments.

The home doctor experts at House Call Doctor have all the information you need

Types of tension headaches

There are two main categories of tension headaches:

  • Episodic tension headaches: these headaches can last from 30 minutes to a week and can occur frequently.
  • Chronic tension headaches: this type of headache lasts for hours and may occur frequently.

Tension headaches are hard to distinguish from migraines. Migraines are often associated with nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity which aren’t common symptoms of tension headaches.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • Dull, aching head pain
  • Tightness or pressure across forehead or on the sides and back of your head
  • Tenderness on your scalp, shoulder and neck muscles
  • Trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping
  • Depression and anxiety.

What causes tension headaches?

The most common cause of tension headaches is muscle tension which can be caused by:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor working conditions that cause muscle tension
  • Poor posture
  • Smoking
  • Consuming too much caffeine
  • Overuse of painkillers, including headache tablets.

Treatment & diagnosis

There is no specific test to diagnose tension headaches, but your doctor can diagnose you by talking to you and examining you. You can ease tension headaches by taking pain relief medication, applying heat or massage. Long term treatment options include:

  • Stretching
  • Relaxation
  • Regular exercise
  • Finding ways to decrease stress, anxiety and depression.

You should call a doctor if your headaches are associated with a loss of consciousness, can’t be relieved with medication, occur after a head injury or you begin to experience migraine symptoms.

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