Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults

Tension headaches: Also called chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches, tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults and adolescents. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.

Tension-type headache is the most common form of headache. Painkillers taken as required work well in most cases. Attention to lifestyle factors such as stress, posture, and exercise may help to prevent headaches. Medication to prevent headaches may help if you have frequent tension-type headaches.

Types of Tension Headache . Tension-type headaches are divided into four classifications:

  • Frequent episodic tension-type headache. Headaches occur at least once but not more than 15 days per month for at least 3 months (a minimum of 12 days but not more than 180 days per year). Headaches last from at least 30 minutes to 7 days.
  • Infrequent episodic tension-type headache. At least 10 episodes of headache that occur less than 1 day per month (12 days per year). Because these headaches occur infrequently, they do not impact a patient’s quality of life as severely as frequent episodic headaches and may not require attention from a medical professional.
  • Chronic tension-type headache. Headaches occur at least 15 days per month for at least 3 months (180 days per year). The headache persists for hours at a time and may be continuous.
  • Probable tension-type headache. Probable tension headaches may be classified as probable frequent episodic, probable infrequent episodic, or probable chronic. They have most, but not all, of the symptoms of tension-type headaches and are not attributed to migraine without aura or other neurological disorders. Probable chronic tension-type headache may be related to medication overuse.

The cause is not clear. Some, but probably not most, may be due to tension. This is why the term tension-type headache is now used rather than tension headache. Many tension-type headaches develop for no apparent reason. Some may be triggered by things such as:

  • Emotional tension, anxiety, tiredness or stress.
  • Physical tension in the muscles of the scalp and neck. For example, poor posture at a desk may cause the neck and scalp muscles to tense. If you squint to read because you cannot see well, this may tense your scalp muscles too.
  • Physical factors such as bright sunlight, cold, heat, noise, etc.

Some research suggests that your genetic make-up may be a factor. So, some people may inherit a tendency to be more prone to develop tension-type headaches more easily than others when stressed or anxious.

By definition, tension-type headache is not caused by other conditions. So, if you have a tension-type headache, a doctor’s examination will be normal apart from the muscles around the head perhaps being a little tender when a doctor presses on them. Also, any tests that may be done will be normal.

However, some common conditions can cause a headache similar to a tension-type headache. For example, a fever (high temperature) may cause a similar headache. Also, a similar type of headache sometimes occurs as a side-effect of some medicines. A similar headache is also common if you don’t have caffeine for a while and were used to drinking lots of caffeine-rich drinks, such as a lot of coffee – a caffeine withdrawal headache.

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Migraines: The exact causes of migraines are unknown. A popular theory is that various triggers cause abnormal brain activity, which in turn causes changes in the blood vessels in the brain. This is called the neurovascular theory. Genetics plays a role in migraines and there are some forms of migraines that are associated with inherited abnormalities in certain parts of the brain. Migraine pain is moderate to severe, often described as pounding, throbbing pain. Migraine headaches can last from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month. Migraines are associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise, or odors; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and stomach upset or abdominal pain. When a child is having a migraine, he or she often looks pale, feels dizzy, has blurred vision, fever, stomach upset, along with the symptoms listed above.

A small percentage of children’s migraines include recurrent (cyclic) gastrointestinal symptoms, vomiting being the most common. Cyclic vomiting means that the symptoms occur on a regular basis — about once a month. These types of migraines are sometimes called abdominal migraines.

headaches, especially migraines, have a tendency to run in families. Most children and adolescents (90%) who have migraines have other family members with migraines. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance that the child will also develop migraines. If only one parent has a history of migraines, the risk drops to 25%-50%.

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