Headache (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of tension headaches?

Common presentation of tension headaches includes the following:

  • Pain that begins in the back of the head and upper neck and is described as a band-like tightness or pressure. It may spread to encircle the head.
  • The most intense pressure may be felt at the temples or over the eyebrows.
  • The pain can vary in intensity but usually is not disabling, meaning that the sufferer may continue with daily activities. The pain usually is bilateral (affecting both sides of the head).
  • The pain is not associated with an aura (see below), nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.
  • The pain occurs sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern) but can occur frequently and even daily in some people.
  • The pain allows most people to function normally, despite the headache.

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

The key to making the diagnosis of any headache is the history given by the patient. The health care professional will ask questions about the headache to try to help make the diagnosis. Those questions may include learning about the quality, quantity, and duration of the pain, and asking about any associated symptoms. The person with a tension headache will usually complain of pain that is mild-to-moderate, located on both sides of the head, described as a tightness that is not throbbing, and not made worse with activity. There will be no associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or light sensitivity.

The physical examination, particularly the neurologic portion of the examination, is important in tension headaches because to make the diagnosis, it should be normal. However, there may be some tenderness of the scalp or neck muscles. If the health care professional finds an abnormality on neurologic exam, then the diagnosis of tension headache should be put on hold while the potential for other causes of headaches has been investigated.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/16/2013

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