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Headaches Caused by Tensions and Stress

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 7 Mar 2017 | comments*Discuss
Headache Tension Stress Ache Pain

Virtually any type of headache can be triggered or made worse by stress and tension but there is a specific headache known as a tension headache. Despite tension headaches being very common there is still much unknown regarding the exact causes, but like most headaches, they are commonly aggravated by stress.

How to Detect A Headache Caused by Stress and Tension

A tension headache can be fairly short, lasting half an hour or as long as a week. They may begin gradually and peak during the day. Chronic tension headaches occur daily for half of a month or more and may remain for many years. The pain of a tension headache is not typically like the throbbing pain of a migraine. It tends to be duller and is often described as an 'ache' or a tight, pulling feeling at the sides and back area of the head.

The pain may also extend down your neck and to your shoulders. It is generally not a severe pain and may be mild enough that it's an inconvenience but you are still able to function. Other times, a tension headache may be more painful and the intensity of it can vary from one headache to another. It is commonly found to begin following specific stresses or challenges an individual may be facing. Stress and tension headaches can involve the contraction and tightening of muscles in the neck, head, and around the back and spine.

Some of the other symptoms that may also occur are:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Problems with focus and concentration
  • Pain around the neck and spine
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches

Why Do I Get Tension Headaches?

It's not known for certain exactly what causes tension headaches, but stress is commonly indicated as a preceding factor. Sources of stress may involve work as well as your partner, friends, or family. If a specific stressful event has occurred or continues to occur, headaches may be present for a prolonged period of time. Your doctor can help to determine what is causing your headaches. If your headache is caused by stress or tension, the initial aim may be to try to remove the source of stress or find ways to cope with it.

Is There Treatment Available?

Handling a tension headache will probably require a multifaceted approach. After speaking with your doctor, it may be that you will receive a combined prescription drug approach with alternative treatments such as meditation and lifestyle alterations to address any stress that is causing or contributing to your tension headaches.

Over-the-counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may be recommended for immediate relief. Some of these preparations contain caffeine, which can help in smaller doses but care should be taken not to consume caffeine too frequently, as it can make headaches worse. It may be that you need to take a daily preventative medication to prevent tension headaches if they are chronic ones.

Anti-depressants and tranquilizers are drugs that may also be prescribed to treat your tension headaches. A heat or ice pack can further help for temporary relief of a tension headache and some people find that massaging the neck and temple area provides relief.

Practicing healthy living is important so aim to get sufficient sleep, avoid dehydration and try to eliminate or limit alcohol and cigarettes. By combining a range of treatment approaches, you will hopefully be able to reduce the discomfort and pain experienced with tension and stress headaches.

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Hi, My daughter, 16, has been diagnosed with having tension headaches, (via CAT scan and MRI) when she was 11. Since then she's developed dizziness, vomiting, (from time to time), blurred vision in the morning, sometimes double vision; She;s been checked by neurologists in hospitals in UK three times last year, (but no MRI this time), and they couldn't diagnose her; Finally, last Decembera neurologist said it was migraine. Another neurologist, in another country confirmed it; She was given first big dosage of aspirin, (if the migraine was the type of less than 15 days a month); She didn't react to this treatment; Then the doctor prescribed amitriptiline and imigran; She started taking both, but after two intakes, she refused taking amitriptiline again. When she has pain, she takes only Imigran and later on, if it persists, paracetamol; I realised that for the last two months, she's had crises only of 8 days per month average; When she has her headaches though, there are variety of symptoms: she's very irritable, very emotional and seems depressed, like clinically depressed; Her symptoms worsen with her menstrual cycle too; While she has her period, she definitely has an attack; I started thinking if she's been misdiagnosed initially; It seems to me that she's had anxiety and stress much before her 'migraine', which means that she might experience other kinds of headaches that mimic migraine, but that the centre of her condition is actually depression; Please share your thoughts. Thank you!
Stassie - 7-Mar-17 @ 11:22 AM
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