A tension headache is a diffuse headache, with pain ranging from mild to moderate that is often described as feeling like there is a tight band around your head. A tension headache is the most common type of headache and yet the cause of this type of headache is not completely understood.
Signs and symptoms of a tension headache include:
• A dull aching Pain
• Scalp tenderness
• Tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles
• A feeling of tightness on the sides, back of your head or across the front
• Tension headaches are divided into two main categories:
• Episodic tension headaches – These can last from just 30 minutes to a full week. Those who suffer from tension headaches often will occur less than 15 days a month for a period lasting at least 3 months.
• Chronic tension headaches – Can last for hours and then can be continuous. If your headaches are occurring more than 15 days a month for a minimum of 3 months, they are called chronic
Risk Factors for Tension Headaches
Risk factors for tension headache include:
• Being a woman – A study found nearly 90% of women and about 70% of men suffer from tension headaches during their lifetime.
• Being middle-aged – The occurrence of tension headaches seems to peak when a person is in their 40s, although people of any age can get a tension headache.
Tension Headaches vs. Migraines
Tension headaches are sometimes hard to tell from migraines. In addition if you suffer from frequent tension headaches, you can still suffer from migraines.
Unlike migraines, tension headache aren’t associated with nausea, visual disturbances or vomiting. Physical activity will often aggravate migraine pain, it will not make your tension headache pain worse. An increased sensitivity to either sound or light can occur with migraine and tension headache, although they are not that common with tension headaches.
Testing for Tension Headaches
Your doctor will ask you some questions relating to the pain characteristics, pain intensity, and pain location. Your doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI to help make a diagnosis.
Tension headaches can be a chronic condition. The treatment goal is to determine a treatment that’s effective. Treatments need to match the everity and how debilitating it is.
• For mild to moderate symptoms
o Aspirin or NSAIDs
• Severe symptoms
o Opioid analgesics
• Preventative Medications
o Tricyclic antidepressants – ie nortriptyline, amitriptyline
o Anticunvulsants – ie venlafaxine, mirtazapine
o Muscle relaxants
Preventative medications can require several weeks to build up in your system and work. So don’t become frustrated if you don’t see changes at first.
Your treatments will be monitored and assessed regularly to see if the treatment works and how well it works. This can vary over time. Your doctor may ask you to maintain a diary to help determine your tension headache patterns and how well the treatments are working.