Tension Headache (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of tension headache?

The pain associated with tension headache typically impacts the whole head, but may begin in the back of the head or above the eyebrows. Some people experience a band-like sensation which encircles their skull, while others describe pain as a muscle tension in their neck or shoulder regions. The pain is frequently described as constant and pressure-like. Most people who have a tension headache are able to continue their daily activities despite the pain. Tension headaches are not associated with nausea or vomiting, and do not have symptoms like flashing lights, blind spots, or numbness or weakness of the arms or legs which precede the headache. These symptoms can help distinguish tension headaches from other types of headaches. In some cases, people with tension headache report some sensitivity to light or sound. The pain of a tension headache tends to come on gradually and even at maximum intensity is not incapacitating.

While the pain of a tension headache is usually short-lived, lasting for several minutes to a few hours, in rare cases the headache may last for many days. Most tension headaches occur infrequently. However, in some cases, headaches may occur more than 15 days each month. When this occurs, the headaches are referred to as chronic tension headache. The pain of chronic tension headache tends to wax and wane in severity.

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

Tension headaches are diagnosed based on the patient's reported history of the headache and physical examination. Because the physical examination in patients with tension headache is generally normal, additional testing such as CT scan or MRI scan usually isn't required. Some basic blood work may be done to confirm that no underlying abnormality is present.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/10/2014

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