with Elikemi Cisco, Staff Intern
Tension headaches constitute a very common type of primary headaches, and affect up to 80% of Americans from time to time. Women are also twice as likely as men to suffer from tension headaches. A tension headache is often described as a painful band as if something was squeezing the head, affecting both sides equally. The intensity can vary from mild to moderate. Unlike other headache types, tension headaches have no unique symptoms.
The mechanism behind tension headaches is poorly understood but it is believed that the contraction of the muscles of the head, face and neck is linked to the occurrence of tension headaches.
Tension headaches are most commonly triggered by stress, both physical and emotional. This type of headache can also be caused by numerous other factors. For example, lifestyle plays an important role as certain behaviors such as excessive smoking and alcohol use increase the chances of having a tension headache.
Environmental factors such as temperature changes can also cause tension headaches. Overexertion of the body and eye strain are also causes of this form of headache. For instance holding your head in one position (such as sitting at a computer) for too long or sleeping in an abnormal position can also lead to a the development of a tension headache. Hormonal changes, mostly in women, fatigue and bruxism, which is the involuntary or habitual grinding of the teeth, typically during sleep are also on the long list of causes.
According to the International Headache Society, tension headaches can take two forms. The first one is called an episodic tension headache, which occurs less than 15 times a month. The second type of tension headaches is referred to as chronic headaches and occurs 15 days or more per month. Chronic tension headaches affect about 3% of the adult population.
Treatments for tension headaches vary depending on whether they are episodic or chronic. Episodic tension headaches can be treated with over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen, which can help relieve the pain. Chronic tension headaches can be treated in different ways using home remedies, prescription medication and biofeedback techniques such as acupuncture. Medication such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants can prevent chronic tension every day when used as a doctor prescribed; but lifestyle changes such as avoiding stress, eating healthy and getting more sleep can also lessen the frequency of tension headaches.
If you believe you suffer from chronic tension headaches go to your doctor. It also helps to know your headache history by keeping a headache diary. If vision, balance or sudden walking or standing problems occur with headaches make sure to schedule an appointment or go to the emergency room.