Tension headache refers to radiating, steady pain in the head, neck, or eyes that can be mild or intense. Tension headaches may be occasional or chronic.
Tension Headache: Areas of Pain
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Tension headaches may occur when muscles in the neck, face, and scalp contract. In some cases, muscle contraction is the result of teeth grinding and jaw clenching. In others, it may be unknown.
Tension headaches are more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of getting a tension headache include:
Some tension headaches are nearly constant, with daily pain that may vary in intensity, while others occur once in a while. Symptoms usually start slowly and build.
Tension headache may cause:
Headaches can become so severe and constant that they interfere with normal activities and sleep.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis can be made on exam, based on specific features. The cause of the headaches however, may be more difficult to determine.
Tests may include:
There are no specific cures for tension headaches, but they can be managed. Therapies aim to stop the headache and reduce the frequency of future episodes.
Treatment may include:
For occasional headaches, your doctor may recommend:
Note: Pain medications are most effective when taken at the first sign of pain and before it becomes severe. Overusing some over-the-counter medications may actually cause headaches. Continuous use of medications may create rebound pain when you stop taking the drug.
For chronic headaches, your doctor may recommend the following to treat or prevent headaches:
Self-care may include:
Lifestyle changes may include:
Additional therapies may include:
To help reduce your chances of getting a tension headache, try the following strategies:
American Headache Society
National Headache Foundation
Headache Network Canada
Help for Headaches
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8/27/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Robberstad L, Dyb G, Hagen K, Stovner LJ, Holmen TL, Zwart JA. An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents: The HUNT Study. Neurology. 2010;75(8):712-717.
5/12/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Yancey JR, Sheridan R, et al. Chronic daily headache: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Apr 15;89(8):642-8.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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