What are tension headaches?
Most people say tension headaches cause a constant, dull, achy feeling on both sides of the head. Some people with tension headaches also have a tight feeling in the head or neck muscles. Tension headaches usually begin slowly and gradually. They often start in the middle of the day.
Another name for this type of headache is stress headache. When people say they have a headache, they usually mean they have a tension-type headache. Tension-type headaches may be mild or severe. Sometimes they hurt more than migraine headaches.
How are tension headaches diagnosed?
Your doctor often can tell which kind of headache you have from hearing your description of the headache and by examining you. Blood tests, x-rays or scans--such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)--usually are not needed.
How are tension headaches treated?
Your doctor may prescribe some medicine for your headache. You may be given a medicine to take only when you have a headache. This medicine helps relieve headache pain. It's best to treat tension headaches when they first begin and are still mild--before they get more painful.
You may also be given a medicine to take every day, even if you don't have a headache. This medicine may help prevent headaches. Your doctor will tell you which type of medicine he or she is prescribing for you.
Besides taking medicine, you can do some other things to help if you get tension headaches:
- Put a heat pack or an ice pack on your head or neck to ease the pain.
- Take a hot shower to ease the pain.
- Get enough rest or sleep.
- Take time away from things that are stressful. This could mean anything from taking a brief walk to going on a long vacation.
- Get regular exercise of all types.
If your headaches don't get better, or if they get worse, call your doctor for further advice.
This is a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this handout applies to you and to get more information, talk to your doctor.
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