A tension headache — or tension-type headache, as it's medically known — is the most common type of headache, and yet its causes aren't well understood. A tension headache is generally a diffuse, mild to moderate pain that many people describe as feeling as if there's a tight band around their head.
It may feel as though muscle contractions are responsible for your head pain, but experts don't think that's the cause, which is why this type of headache is generally referred to as a tension-type headache.
Fortunately, effective treatments for tension headaches are available. Managing a tension headache is often a balance between fostering healthy habits, finding effective nondrug treatments and using medications appropriately.
Signs and symptoms of a tension headache include:
Dull, aching head pain
The sensation of tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head
Tenderness on your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
Occasionally, loss of appetite
A tension headache can last from 30 minutes to an entire week. You may experience these headaches only occasionally, or nearly all the time. If your headaches occur 15 or more days a month for at least three months, they're considered chronic. If you have headaches that occur fewer than 15 times in a month, your headaches are considered episodic. However, people with frequent episodic headaches are at a higher risk of developing chronic headaches.
Tests and diagnosis
If you have chronic or recurrent headaches, your doctor may try to pinpoint the type and cause of your headaches using these approaches:
Your description of your pain. Your doctor can learn a lot about your headaches from your description of the type of pain, including its severity, location, frequency and duration, and other signs and symptoms you may have.
Imaging tests. If you have unusual or complicated headaches, your doctor may order tests to rule out serious causes of head pain, such as a tumor or an aneurysm. Two common tests used to image your brain are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a series of computer-directed X-rays to provide a comprehensive view of your brain. An MRI doesn't use X-rays. Instead, it combines a magnetic field, radio waves and computer technology to produce clear images.
A variety of medications, both OTC and prescription, are available to stop or reduce the pain of an existing headache attack, including:
Analgesics are pain relievers, and a class of analgesics known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first line of treatment for reducing headache pain. NSAIDs include the OTC drugs aspirin (Fadrin), ibuprofen (Ipofene). Prescription NSAIDs include indomethacin (Indomethacin) and Acetaminophen (Paracetamol Barakat).