Tension Headache (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of tension headache?

Most tension headaches occur infrequently, and are usually short-lived (resolves within minutes to a few hours). In rare cases the headache may last for many days. A tension headaches that occur more than 15 days each month are referred to as chronic tension headache.

Tension headache pain

  • The pain of chronic tension headache tends to wax and wane in severity.
  • 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 cap or band-like sensation which encircles their skull, while others describe their pain as a muscle tension in their neck or shoulder regions.
  • The pain is frequently described as constant and pressure-like.
  • The pain tends to come on gradually and even at maximum intensity is not incapacitating.
  • Most people who have a tension headache are able to continue their daily activities despite the pain.

Other tension headache symptoms

  • In some cases, people with tension headache report some sensitivity to light or sound.

Are tension headaches associated with symptoms of other types of headache?

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 (for example, migraine headaches).

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

Tension headaches are diagnosed based on the patient's reported history of the headache and physical examination. There is no test to specifically confirm tension headache. 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 6/22/2015

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