Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are the most common type of headache in adults. They are characterized by dull pain, tightness, or pressure around the forehead or back of the head and neck. While tension headaches are not usually associated with visual disturbances, nausea, or vomiting like some forms of migraine, they can still lead to migraines in some cases. Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck regions.
These contractions can be triggered by a variety of factors such as stress, worry, or tiredness. If you have frequent episodic tension headaches, you may also experience migraines. Mixed tension migraines have symptoms of both tension headaches and migraines. Symptoms may vary from person to person.
Chronic tension headaches occur when you have a headache 15 or more days each month for a period of 3 months. This type of headache can cause stress and depression, which in turn can lead to more headaches. Patients whose headaches do not respond to treatment in the primary care setting may require referral to a headache specialist for comprehensive treatment. You may be able to prevent or reduce tension headaches by learning what causes your headaches and trying to avoid those triggers.
Write down when you have a headache and how bad it is, along with details such as what you ate and what you were doing before the headache started. Botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A) is sometimes injected into the muscles of the face and head to treat headaches. If over-the-counter medicines don't stop your headaches well enough or if you have a lot of headaches, your doctor may prescribe medicines to prevent headaches. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback can reduce or eliminate tension headaches if they occur regularly or frequently.
Because tension headaches are often caused by specific triggers, identifying the factors that cause headaches is one way to prevent future episodes.