You can treat a tension headache with aspirin or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. A person with caffeine can eliminate pain faster. Try not to use them more than 9 days a month, or two doses per headache. Talk to your doctor if you still have pain after taking these medicines.
Tension headaches are usually caused by stress, worry, or tiredness. They cause the muscles of the scalp, neck, and jaw to tighten, causing pain. The pain of a migraine is extremely debilitating. It may sound a little strange, but a person may have another headache besides a migraine at the same time.
They are sometimes referred to as mixed tension headaches, transformed migraines, or chronic migraines. No matter what the name is, the pain is horrible and some may not even realize that they are suffering a second headache. Tension headaches can be hard to distinguish from migraines. In addition, if you have frequent episodic tension-type headaches, you may also get migraines.
People with chronic tension-type headaches may have symptoms that last for months at a time. Pain can stay at the same level of discomfort for days. Although rare, these headaches can affect your quality of life. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between tension headache and a migraine attack.
Tension headache does not worsen with physical activity. It is not accompanied by vomiting and, if there is nausea, it is mild. A migraine attack may be accompanied by increased sensitivity to both light and sound; one or none accompanies the tension-type headache. However, it is possible that a tension headache may trigger a migraine attack.
Patients whose headaches do not respond to treatment in the primary care setting may require referral to a headache specialist for comprehensive treatment. This combination of tension and migraine headaches, formerly known as mixed headache syndrome, is now identified as migraine and coexisting tension headaches. As you can see from the names by which tension headache is known, at one time it was thought that the cause of tension headache was mainly psychological, caused by the mind or emotions. Some patients will describe a daily chronic tension headache, as well as a recurrent, hard or “sick” headache similar to a migraine.
While chronic tension headaches can disrupt your life, tension headaches usually don't cause serious health problems. This is what the official medical publication that classifies all headache disorders calls this headache. Tension headaches have been referred to by several names over the years, including tension headache, muscle contraction headache, psychomyogenic headache, stress headache, common headache, essential headache, idiopathic headache, and psychogenic headache. Reviewed for accuracy by subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisors from the American Migraine Foundation with in-depth knowledge and training in headache medicine.
The pain is usually mild to moderate and doesn't get worse with routine physical activity, which means that most people with tension headaches continue their normal daily activities despite having a headache. Similarly, when a migraine headache becomes more frequent, your pain begins to feel like that of a tension headache. For example, the more intense a tension headache becomes, the more it resembles the sharp, throbbing pain of a migraine headache. Combination therapies containing butalbital or opioids are generally not recommended for the treatment of tension headache because of the risk of tolerance, dependence, toxicity and the development of drug overuse headache.
If tension headaches are life-altering or if you need to take medicine for headaches more than twice a week, see your doctor. No matter what type of headache you're facing, the main concern right now is where to find relief that works, preferably something that addresses the root cause of migraines and tension headaches to help reduce the frequency or even eliminate the condition. Daily headache can be bilateral, mild to moderate in severity, with a “hat band” effect, similar to tension-type headaches. Some of the patients with migraine and coexisting tension headaches will describe a history of daily headaches that are occasionally more severe or associated with nausea and vomiting, similar to migraine.