Tension Headache

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Tension headache facts

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  • Tension headache is thought to be one of the most common types of headache.
  • Although the precise cause of tension headache is unknown, there are factors that seem to contribute to tension headaches, such as
  • Different conditions may contribute to tension headaches such as vision problems or eye strain, overexertion, muscle strains caused by poor posture have all been associated with development of tension headache.
  • While certain foods (processed or aged foods, chocolate, red wine) can trigger migraine headache, in some cases head and neck movement or physical exertion might trigger a migraine; this is not typical of tension headache.
  • Some individuals have both migraine and tension headache; additionally, tension headache can trigger migraine pain, and may be relieved by migraine medications. Symptoms of migraine include
    • light and sound sensitivity,
    • nausea or
    • vomiting, and
    • (often one-sided) throbbing head pain which worsens with exertion
  • Both tension headaches and migraines are diagnosed by physical examination and headache history of the patient.
  • Treatments for tension headaches can include OTC and prescription pain relievers, exercise (including formal physical therapy), stress management and relaxation techniques, and alternative therapies.

What is a tension headache?

Headache -- a condition so common it's the punch line for a number of jokes, but when you're experiencing a headache, it's no laughing matter.

When most people discuss headache, they're typically referring to the most frequently experienced type of headache, a tension headache (also known as tension-type or stress headache). Almost half of adults experienced a headache in the past year; fortunately, for the majority of those individuals, the headache was mild, short-lived, and likely fell into the category of tension headache.

Children and teens can experience tension headache; with a significant percentage of children having experienced tension headache by age 15. Females are often diagnosed with tension headaches (more often, about twice as often) than males.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/22/2015

Patient Comments

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Tension Headache - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with a tension headache?
Tension Headache - OTC Drugs Question: What type of OTC drugs or other remedies help when you have a tension headaches?
Tension Headache - Experience Question: Please share your experience with tension headaches including triggers, causes, symptoms, and things that help relieve tension headaches for you.
Tension Headache - Alternative Therapies Question: What alternative or home remedies do you use to help the pain from tension headaches?

Headache Symptoms

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache, and as many as 90% of adults have tension headaches. Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. Migraine headache is often misdiagnosed as tension headache.

Headaches can be associated with symptoms like:

  • vomiting,
  • nausea,
  • eye pain when looking at bright lights (photophobia),
  • vertigo,
  • dizziness, and
  • a tightness feeling around the head.