Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Author: Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Headache and Migraine Triggers Slideshow

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

What are the signs and symptoms of tension headaches?

Common signs and of tension headaches include:

  • Pain that begins in the back of the head and upper neck and is often 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 where the temporalis and frontal muscles are located.
  • The pain may 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 will try to define the quality, quantity, and duration of the pain, as well as 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 usually are 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 until the potential for other causes of headaches has been investigated.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors