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Tension Headaches


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Mar 2023
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What are tension headaches?

  • Tension headaches are common and not dangerous

  • The pain isn't usually severe

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, helps lower your pain

  • Jaw problems, neck pain, or eyestrain can cause tension headaches

  • Stress may cause tension headaches

What causes tension headaches?

Doctors don’t understand exactly why tension headaches happen, but you may get them if you have:

What are the symptoms of tension headaches?

You have:

  • Pain in your head that feels like a band tightening around your head

  • Pain that is mild or moderate, not severe—the pain doesn’t usually stop you from your daily tasks

  • Your pain doesn’t get worse with light, sounds, smells, or when you move around

  • Your headache doesn’t make you feel sick or throw up

There are 2 types of tension headaches, based on how often they happen:

  • Episodic headaches happen less than 15 days a month

  • Chronic (long-lasting) headaches happen 15 or more days a month

If you have episodic tension- headaches, your headache may:

  • Start several hours after waking up and get worse later in the day

  • Last 30 minutes to several days

If you have chronic tension headaches, your headache may:

  • Be almost always present, and get better and worse throughout the day

  • Get worse each day

How can doctors tell if I have tension headaches?

Certain warning signs suggest your headache is not an ordinary tension headache. See a doctor right away for a headache if you have:

  • Changes in your vision, weakness, drowsiness, confusion, loss of balance, or trouble speaking

  • A fever and stiff neck

  • A sudden, very severe headache that came on like a thunderclap

  • Tenderness at your temple (as when combing hair) or jaw pain when chewing

  • Cancer, AIDS, or a weak immune system

  • A worsening headache

  • Red eyes and halos seen around lights

How do doctors treat tension headaches?

Doctors may tell you to:

  • Take pain medicine, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen

  • Massage your head and neck

  • Do activities to help you relax and lower stress

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Aphen, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Children's Pain Relief, Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
Advil, Advil Children's, Advil Children's Fever, Advil Infants', Advil Junior Strength, Advil Migraine, Caldolor, Children's Ibuprofen, ElixSure IB, Genpril , Ibren , IBU, Midol, Midol Cramps and Body Aches, Motrin, Motrin Children's, Motrin IB, Motrin Infants', Motrin Junior Strength, Motrin Migraine Pain, PediaCare Children's Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, PediaCare Infants' Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, Samson-8
Anacin Adult Low Strength, Aspergum, Aspir-Low, Aspirtab , Aspir-Trin , Bayer Advanced Aspirin, Bayer Aspirin, Bayer Aspirin Extra Strength, Bayer Aspirin Plus, Bayer Aspirin Regimen, Bayer Children's Aspirin, Bayer Extra Strength, Bayer Extra Strength Plus, Bayer Genuine Aspirin, Bayer Low Dose Aspirin Regimen, Bayer Womens Aspirin , BeneHealth Aspirin, Bufferin, Bufferin Extra Strength, Bufferin Low Dose, DURLAZA, Easprin , Ecotrin, Ecotrin Low Strength, Genacote, Halfprin, MiniPrin, St. Joseph Adult Low Strength, St. Joseph Aspirin, VAZALORE, Zero Order Release Aspirin, ZORprin
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