Tension Headache: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
We often become emotional and experience anxiety and stress. These emotional reactions may cause a tension headache. This is the most common type of headache, maybe mild or moderate and sometimes very intense that people say they feel like a tight band around their forehead.
In most of the cases, it is acute and episodic can occur two or three times per month on average. However, tension headache can also be chronic and include headache episodes that last for more than 15 days per month.
Tension Headache May Occur (Causes)!
Tension headache is experienced when the muscular contractions in the head and neck region is increased. The most important cause are…
- Emotional stress (predominant cause)
- Negative thinking/ over thinking
- Missing meals
- Lack of physical activity
- Bright sunlight
- Strong odors (smell)
- Eye strain (poor lighting, squint)
- Cold and flu
- Poor posture (sitting and staring at the computer screen for the long time)
- Caffeinated beverages
- Iron deficiency.
We often attribute headache to stress, but underlying mechanism involved is:
Release of chemicals from the brain to combat stress ( flight and fight reaction)
Blood vessel widen (vasodilation) in the brain
Types of Tension Headache
Tension headache is broken don’t into three Categories:
- Infrequent episodic tension headache: one or fewer times per month.
- Frequent episodic tension headache: more than one, but less than 15 episodes per month for three or more months.
- Chronic tension headache: more than 15 episodes per month for three or more months accompanied by mild or severe nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms of a tension headache include:
- Bilateral pain in the head; “band-like” sharp, throbbing pain
- A feeling of pressure around the head
- Sleep disturbances
- Anorexia (loss of appetite).
Diagnosis of Tension Headache
Tension headache can be ruled out simply asking the person about characteristics of pain like…
1. Pain description
- Time and duration
- location (on forehead, neck, and shoulders)
- No nausea or vomiting sensation.
2. Neurological Imaging Tests
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Computed Tomography(CT Scan)
To detect any lesions (tumors) in the brain.
But, most of the time tension headache is confused with the migraine headache. Therefore, before prescription of any medications it is important to be sure what is the category of headache. Let us know how to differentiate tension headache from migraine headache.
- Mild and dull pain throughout the forehead and scalp
- No vomiting and nausea, no blurring of vision
- Pain is experienced at end of the day.
- Intense pulsating, throbbing pain mainly felt on the one side the head
- Vomiting and nausea sensation
- Seeing flashlights or blind spots
- Blurring of vision
- Pain is experienced at any time.
Tension Headache Treatment
1. Without Medicines
Fortunately, many headaches can be alleviated without medicines. Here are some remedies for quick relief:
- Close eyes and rest: Sit in a quite, dark room with your eyes closed and just relax for a bit. Sleep also diminishes or eliminates the pain.
- Warm up your neck: Put a heating pad or a warm cloth around your neck and the base of your skull. If that doesn’t help, apply an ice pack.
- Refrain from stress: Try to step away from stress – avoid noisy environments, if possible leave work early.
- Watch what you eat and drink: Don’t skip meals and avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. Regular meal pattern is very helpful for people with low blood sugar.
- Massage your neck and temples: Rubbing and smooth massaging of the neck and temples improve blood flow and soothe tension headache.
- Relax: Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and visualize a peaceful image – these relaxation techniques significantly reduce muscle contractions.
- Aspirin (contraindicated for children below 16 years)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB etc)
- Naproxen (Aleve).
- Indomethacin (Indocin)
- Acetaminophen (paracetamol)
- Ketorolac (Ketorolac Tromethamine)
Muscle relaxants (to stop muscle contractions) – in case if pain relievers aren’t working
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRI) – stabilizes your brain’s serotonin levels thus by reducing pain
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac,sarafem)
Doctors may recommend other treatments like:
1. Stress management classes: They teach ways to cope with stress and how to relieve tension.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps you to recognize situations that cause tension, stress, and anxiety. They teach to to cope and avoid such situations.
3. Biofeedback: A relaxation technique that teaches how to manage pain and stress.
4. Acupuncture: Fine needles are applied to specific areas of the body to reduce stress and tension.
Prevention of Tension Headache:
We might not be able to stop every single headache episode. But there are lots of life style changes you can make to get fewer of them . Try these lifestyle changes to prevent future tension headache episodes:
- Limit your stress: Plan and organized always. Plan relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and massage periodically according to your convenience.
- Get enough sleep: Rest well and habituate regular sleep habits. It helps you to deal with stress effectively.
- Exercise regularly: plan exercise sessions at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Pay close attention to neck, jaw, and shoulders as these areas tend to hold more tension.
- Drink lots of water: Drink several glasses of water every day even you are not thirsty because if you are well hydrated, tension is likely to be less. Also it is good for eat vegetables and fruits rich in water.
- Improve your posture: When you stand, hold your shoulders back and your head steady.W hen you sit, make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground and your head and neck don’t stump forward.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol: Drink less coffee and tea, and fewer energy and soft drinks.
- Eat regular and balanced meals: Try to eat at the same time every day because skipping a meal can cause a throbbing headache. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and also include whole grains in your diet.
- Keep a headache diary: To spot triggers of attacks, record the date, time, and what you were doing or had eaten when you get a headache. It helps your doctor to come up with a treatment plan.
If neglected or untreated, tension headache may cause complications like
- Chronic trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and agitation
- Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
- Stomach or intestine irritation.
- Irritation of the Stomach or Intestines
- Blind spot in the eyes.