FAQ’s on Tension Headaches

What is a tension headache?

A tension headache is the most often suffered headache, described as being a mild to moderate pain throughout the head accompanied by the feeling of pressure described as a band tightened around the head.

There are two types of tension headaches: episodic and chronic.

  • Episodic tension headaches can be as short lived as a half an hour, or last as long as a week. They are identified by tension headaches that last less than fifteen days out of the month for three months or more.
  • Chronic tension headaches are tension headaches lasting fifteen days or more each month and for periods longer than three months, explains the Mayo clinic.

Who gets tension headaches?

Anyone can be affected by a tension headache. Research shows that women in their mid-to-late forties are most likely to suffer tension headaches. Ninety percent of women and seventy percent of men will experience tension headaches at some time during their life.

What are the symptoms of tension headaches?

Different people may experience different symptoms from tension headaches. Some patients may suffer all the symptoms of tension headaches. A tension headache can typically be identified by tenderness or pain in the muscles of the scalp, neck, and shoulders, dull aching pain in the head or parts of the head, a sensation of pressure, often described as a tightened band around the head.

How is a tension headache diagnosed?

It is not known how or why tension headaches occur, although it is believed that stress is the main cause. If you experience frequent tension headaches and they affect your quality of life or your ability to function normally it is recommended that you visit your physician for diagnosis and treatment. Your physician will need to try to determine the cause of these headaches in order to prescribe the correct treatment. He may ask questions to describe the characteristics of your pain as well as the intensity of the pain you are experiencing. He may also ask you to describe the location of your pain.

Your physician may also utilize modern medical equipment such as a CT scan (computerized tomography), which is a method to view a computerized image of the brain. Another method is by means of an MRI (magnetic resonance image) to view images of the brain. These methods are for ruling out causes more so than identifying causes. By the use of these types of equipment it can be determined whether there is an issue within the brain such as a tumor or a less serious cause for your tension headaches.

What are the methods of treatment for tension headaches?

Treatment for tension headaches may vary from patient to patient as everyone responds differently to medications. Some OTC (over the counter) medications that are used to treat tension headaches are acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (motrin, advil), naproxen sodium (aleve), aspirin, indomethacin (indocin), and ketorolac (Ketorolac Tromethamine). Sometimes combinations of these OTC medications are necessary to find relief. This can be solved by the use of combination OTC medications. These drugs often combine acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine or some other combination.

When do you need a prescription for tension headaches?

For more persistent tension headaches stronger medication than is available OTC may be required. Your physician can prescribe drugs such as triptans and narcotic analgesics to help relieve the symptoms of chronic tension headaches. Other medications your physician may prescribe are drugs that would be used as preventive medications. These drugs include anticonvulsants and muscle relaxers such as topamax or flexeril.

Are there alternatives to OTC medication?

Your physician may also prescribe tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline (Pamelor), these are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for tension headaches. They may also prescribe the antidepressants venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and mirtazapine (Remeron). Some antidepressants may cause side effects. These side effects include dry mouth, drowsiness, and weight gain. If you experience tension headaches, speak to your physician about the best way for you to treat or prevent your symptoms.