About 4 percent to 5 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic
headaches, which may occur nearly every day, according to
the Mayo Clinic. While an occasional headache is something
that most people experience, frequent headaches can be a warning
sign that something is amiss in your body.
If you get frequent headaches, it's likely to be a
tension-type headache. They account for 75-90 percent
of frequent headaches.
The cause of the most commonly reported headache, tension
headaches, is actually still unknown. An estimated 75 percent
to 90 percent of people who complain of frequent headaches
are suffering from tension headaches.
Some experts believe they stem from contracted muscles, while
others believe they're related to changes in your brain chemicals,
such as serotonin, endorphins and others, which help your
The good news is that these headaches are rarely the sign
of something serious (see the end of the article for some
rare, but serious, causes). Instead, tension-type headaches
are related to lifestyle factors that you can influence.
The most common triggers of tension headaches include:
Not enough sleep
Certain foods and food additives, such as chocolate,
cheese, caffeine and monosodium
Grinding your teeth
Depression and anxiety
Lack of exercise
Holding your head or neck in an awkward position for
a long time
Hormonal changes related to menstruation
(PMS), menopause, pregnancy or hormone use
Medications, including those for depression and high
blood pressure, or overusing headache medication
Sleeping in an awkward position
Sinus infections, colds or flu
What do Tension Headaches Feel Like?
Typically, tension headaches cause an aching or squeezing
sensation on both sides of your head, forehead, temples or
back of head. The pain is often described as a tight band
around your head, or a feeling that your head is "in
a vise." The pain may be mild to moderately intense.
Tension headaches may also include:
If you experience visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting,
abdominal pain or weakness, you are likely having a migraine
headache rather than a tension headache, as these symptoms
are rare with tension headaches. Most people who get migraine
headaches also experience tension-type headaches, but not
necessarily vice versa.
Just anticipating a stressful event can bring on a
tension headache if you're prone to them.
Tension headaches can come on at any time, but may be more
common when you're anticipating a stressful event, such as
a confrontation at work or at home. They can last anywhere
from 30 minutes to a full week.
How to Prevent, and Care For, Tension Headaches
Lifestyle changes will go far in keeping tension headaches
at bay. The top tips for headache relief include:
Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Get enough quality
sleep each night. If you have difficulty sleeping,
try listening to the highly recommended Sleep
Easy CD to help you "shift gears" and relax
Exercise -- it's known to reduce the frequency
and intensity of headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Exercise may even help to relieve the pain of a tension
headache in progress.
your posture. This will help to keep strain
on your muscles, tendons and bones to a minimum.
Keep your stress well-managed. We all have stress;
it's the way you deal with it that makes all the difference.
Schedule regular times to de-stress during your day by
soaking in a bubble bath, reading or taking a long walk.
Learn the fine art of stretching! Regular stretching
is well known to help relieve pain, including headache
pain. To learn how to do the right type of stretching
-- the kind that actually feel good while you do them
(and after!) -- we highly recommend the Stretching
Toward a Healthier Life DVD.
Get regular massages. Massages
can help to relieve headache pain, and they also loosen
up tight muscles in your neck and shoulders, which may
also be contributing to your headache.
Pay attention to "triggers." If you
experience frequent headaches, experts recommend keeping
a "headache diary." In it, record what took
place before your headache began. Did you have a double
espresso? It may be the caffeine. Did you walk by a perfume
counter? You may be sensitive
When Can Headaches be Serious?
The majority of headaches do not signal an underlying illness,
but in rare cases headaches can be related to serious conditions
including brain aneurysm, brain tumor, stroke, or a brain
infection like meningitis or encephalitis.
You should see a health care provider right away if you:
Experience a severe headache that comes on suddenly
Have fever, a stiff neck, mental confusion, numbness,
weakness or double vision along with your headache
Are over the age of 50 and start to experience headache
pain you've never felt before
Get headaches from coughing, moving quickly or straining
Have a headache after a head injury
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