How Long Does a Tension Headache Last?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and they can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, weeks, or even months. The average tension headache lasts about four hours, but for some people, severe headaches can go on much longer. Without effective treatment, migraine attacks usually last four to 24 hours. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in these headaches.

Tension headaches usually don't cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. They cause constant pain, rather than throbbing, and tend to affect both sides of the head. You may also feel your neck muscles tighten and a feeling of pressure behind your eyes. Tension headaches can be chronic, occurring frequently or every day. Most headaches are not life-threatening, but occasionally a headache is a sign of a very serious condition.

Even so, it's important to know when a headache needs urgent care and how to control the vast majority of headaches that do not threaten your health. In one study, two-thirds of people diagnosed with chronic tension headache had had a daily or almost daily headache for an average of seven years before seeing a doctor. Finding and avoiding the things or triggers that cause tension headaches can reduce how often you have them and how severe they are when you have them. Some studies have estimated that about 1 in 30 adults have chronic tension headaches, which means they have a headache more than half of every day for three months or more. It should be noted that drug overuse headache (drug-induced headache) should be ruled out (described above), as it can often be confused with chronic tension headache. However, a proportion of these patients may have developed medication overuse headaches (drug-induced headaches) as a result of their tension headaches. Medication overuse headache is caused by taking pain relievers (or triptan medicines) too often for tension headaches or migraine attacks.

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. You may be able to prevent or reduce tension headaches by learning what causes your headaches and trying to avoid those triggers. If tension headaches occur regularly or frequently, therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback can reduce or eliminate headaches. Your seasonal headache may be a cluster headache in spring, a summer migraine, or an allergy headache. Knowing when a headache needs urgent care and how to control the vast majority of headaches that do not threaten your health is important.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

Award-winning food advocate. Subtly charming bacon practitioner. Alcohol enthusiast. Proud travel aficionado. Incurable twitter scholar.

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