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Tension Headaches - What Are They and How To Treat Them?

Aug 17, 2007
The most common type of headache, the tension headache is experienced by nearly 80% of adults at some point in their lives. A nonspecific headache, a tension headache is not vascular or migrainous, and is not related to any organic disease. Likely due to a chemical or neuronal imbalance in the brain, tension headaches have also been linked to muscle strain and tightening in the neck or scalp.

The pain can be very mild, or quite severe, with a tightening feeling that resembles a vice in the temples, or even at the sides and back of the head. Rarely do sufferers experience nausea or sensitivity to light from this type of headache, but it is has been reported in some cases.

There are three distinct categories of tension headaches. They include:

Episodic Headaches - These occur less than once a month and are triggered by stress, anxiety, fatigue or even anger. Most commonly referred to as "stress headaches," the episodic tension headache often responds well to over-the-counter medications and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, music therapy and deep muscle massage.

Frequent Headaches - Sufferers report 1-15 days of symptoms per month with this category of headache. Frequent headaches can also be accompanied by full-blown migraines and should be reviewed by a physician.

Chronic Headaches - This type of tension-style headache occurs more than 15 days per month, and evolves over time from episodic headaches to chronic ones. They can occur daily in some sufferers, and may last for hours as the pain peaks and falls during a 24-hour cycle. Chronic tension headaches are often a result of depression, and should be discussed and diagnosed by a medical doctor.

Patients often report awakening with the headache in the morning, with little or no relief during the course of the day. Other side effects may include: nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and poor concentration. Some patients have found relief by using antidepressant medications, even when depression was not the underlying cause for the headaches. Habitual analgesic therapy must be strictly avoided for this type of headache, due to its strong link to addiction and other physical side effects. Biofeedback has also been found to be helpful.

Although common, living with tension headaches can be quite difficult for some sufferers. Prompt treatment is necessary to prevent, contain and lesson the severity of attacks. There are many medical treatments available, both over the counter and prescribed by a doctor.
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