How are Tension Headaches Treated?

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  • Written By: A. B. Kelsey
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Tension headaches, often called stress headaches, are one of the most common types of headaches experienced. While not generally as debilitating as migraine headaches, tension headaches can occur with a higher frequency and have a greater tendency to recur, especially when a person is under stress. The good news about tension headaches, however, is that they can generally be easily treated through a combination of stress reduction, medication, and changes in diet and exercise.

The pain of a tension headache is generally mild to moderate. Sufferers commonly describe these headaches as a tight band of pressure that makes it feel like the head is in a vise. Tension headaches usually affect both sides of the head and can be concentrated on the forehead, the base of the head, or the temples. Some patients also suffer migraine-like symptoms, including experiencing sensitivity to light or noise, visual disturbances, and nausea or vomiting. Tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.


Although physicians are still debating the cause of tension headaches, most agree that the pain is caused by muscle contractions in the head, face, neck, or shoulders. These headaches can be triggered by psychological factors such as anxiety, emotional tension, or depression. Tension headaches may also have physiological triggers, such as fatigue, sleeping in a cold room, or sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position. Any activity that causes the head to be held in one position for a long time can also cause a tension headache.

Because stress is a leading cause of tension headaches, suffers should consider learning a variety of ways to handle tension. Biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques can all be quite effective in relieving headache pain and decreasing the frequency of tension headaches. Acupuncture and massage therapy might also help headache sufferers treat pain and manage stress. If chronic tension headaches are manifestations of underlying depression, anxiety, or repressed hostility, the headaches might be alleviated with psychological counseling.

Changes in diet and exercise can also help to reduce the risk of suffering tension headaches. Studies have found that certain foods such as chocolate, cheese, and the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger tension headaches. On the other hand, following a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and incorporates fish and soy for protein may help lessen the frequency and intensity of stress headaches. Taking the recommended daily dosage of magnesium and vitamin B-complex can also potentially help those who experience tension headaches, as can getting enough sleep and kicking the smoking habit.

Although the above suggestions might help with long-term relief, tension headache sufferers also need immediate pain relief. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin are commonly used analgesics for tension headache treatment. Some medical experts suggest coupling the over-the-counter medication with caffeine and an antihistamine. Caffeine can help by constricting the blood flow and reducing swelling. Antihistamines can do the same, although they are generally more effective when dealing with tension headaches caused by allergies. Hot or cold showers or baths may relieve the pain for some sufferers, while others swear that putting a heat or ice pack on the head reduces the pain.


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Post 4

Some headaches are caused from allergies to animals. Especially cats. Bathing your indoor animals often, washing your blankets with warm water often, washing my hands after petting my cat, and vacuuming furniture and carpets are necessary if you feel you aren't able to find your pet another home and are allergic to them.

Post 3

Sometimes tension headaches can be confused with sinus headaches, particularly those that show up as a band around the head.

Sinus headaches, which most commonly affect the area above and around the eyes, can cause some of the same symptoms, but are not caused by the same triggers as tension headaches -- that is often where you can tell the difference.

However, both can cause a great deal of pain and inconvenience, so if you are having severe headaches of any kind on a regular basis, you should see your doctor, just to make sure.

In some cases, serious headaches can be the sign of dangerous conditions, such as brain aneurysms.

If nothing else, your doctor will be able to prescribe a stronger pain reliever for the headaches, and give you some tips on how to avoid them.

Post 2

When I was pregnant, I used to get the worst pressure headaches.

Apparently pressure or tension headaches happen to pregnant women a lot because of the hormonal changes.

I tried all the "pregnancy headaches" cures, but the only thing that seemed to help me were lots of ibuprofen and a hot shower.

Hope that other women don't have to go through the same thing!

Post 1

Some other lesser known tension headache symptoms include irritability, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite.

Many also experience unusual muscle tenderness, particularly in the back and neck area.

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