Tension Headaches

Moderate or severe pain, affecting one or more areas around the head, often as a result of stress

  • More common over the age of 20
  • More common in females
  • Stress is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Tension headaches are often the result of stress or bad posture, which causes a tightening of the muscles in the neck and scalp. Tension headaches usually last only a few hours, but some people may have persistent headaches that last for several days or weeks. Recurrent tension headaches often affect people with depression or those who are under continuous stress. Tension headaches are often made worse by noise and hot, stuffy environments. This type of headache occurs most commonly in women over the age of 20.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms often begin late in the morning or in the early afternoon and may persist for several hours. They include:

  • Pain that is usually constant and is felt above the eyes or more generally over the head.

  • Feeling of pressure behind the eyes.

  • Tightening of neck muscles.

  • Feeling of tightness around the head.

People who have persistent headaches often find it difficult to sleep (see Insomnia) and may also feel depleted of energy.

What can I do?

Taking an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol may help to relieve a tension headache. However, the prolonged use of painkilling drugs may cause headaches eventually. If you have a severe headache that lasts for more than 24 hours, does not respond to self-help measures, or is associated with symptoms such as vomiting or blurred vision, consult your doctor immediately.

What might the doctor do?

Your doctor will ask about the severity and frequency of your headaches and may look for signs of stress or depression. A diagnosis of tension headache is often clear from the symptoms, but you may need further tests, such as MRI or CT scanning of the brain, to check for an underlying cause.

Your doctor may recommend ways for you to deal with stress, such as yoga or relaxation exercises. If you are suffering from depression, he or she may prescribe antidepressant drugs. Once stress or depression has been relieved, tension headaches usually clear up, but they may recur in the future.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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