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  Headache Types | TENSION-TYPE

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Background

Nearly all of us have had a tension-type headache, but most of us believe we can handle it. We take an over-the-counter analgesic and before we know it, the headache has disappeared. Millions, however, encounter headaches that are so painful, debilitating or frequent that we seem to spend our days waiting for "it" to attack and then to retreat.

As universal as tension-type headaches are, their causes and symptoms are more complicated and unique than you might realize. The word "tension" can be misleading, too, because not all headaches are caused by tension. In fact, many people do not seek medical attention when they should because they assume the cause of their head pain must be tension.

Physicians describe two tension-type headaches: episodic and chronic.

Episodic
Generally, episodic headaches occur randomly and are often the result of temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger. They are what most of us consider "tension-type" headaches.

Symptoms include soreness in your temples, a tightening band-like sensation around your head (a "vice-like" ache), a pulling feeling, pressure sensations, and contracting head and neck muscles. This is why physicians may refer to tension-type headaches as "muscle contraction" headaches. Your symptoms can also include a tightness in your neck (as if your "head and neck were in a cast"); only certain positions seem to provide relief. The headache surfaces in your forehead, temples or the back of your head and neck.

If you can ease or eliminate your headache by taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medication -- which brings relief in about one to two hours -- then yours are probably episodic headaches. While you may have several of these tension-type headaches during a month, you are probably managing them yourself with an analgesic, a long walk or, if possible, a good night's sleep.

If, however, you find that you are taking medication daily or almost daily, then you should see your physician because yours may be chronic tension-type headaches. Or, you may be experiencing rebound headaches, which are medication-induced and both aggravate and mask other headaches.

Chronic
A tension-type headache that occurs just about every day, and may have been going on for months, is chronic. It is the frequency that distinguishes episodic from chronic headaches. If you suffer from chronic headaches, you probably have not found much relief in over-the-counter medications for a pain that seems constant and unrelenting.

That is why people who suffer from chronic headaches should ask their doctors for help. That is also why, when we discuss tension-type headaches here, we are referring to those that are chronic.

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Tension Headaches | Description & Symptoms

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