Tension-type headache is a term used to describe a headache causing mild to moderate pain that often feels like a tight band across your forehead or pressure around the head and neck. These headaches may be provoked by the stress of everyday life, eyestrain or poor posture. They are not worsened by routine activity, and therefore usually don't prevent people from going about their daily activities.
Typically, the pain is not troublesome enough to cause sufferers to see a doctor. People who get tension-type headache do not experience sensitivity to light, sound, or movement, and they do not experience nausea or vomiting.
The underlying cause of tension-type headache is unknown.
Symptoms of a tension headache include:
Tension headaches are considered chronic if they occur 15 or more days a month for at least three months. They're considered epidsodic if they occur fewer than 15 times a month.
Tension headaches differ from migraines in that they're not associated with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, visual disturbances such as blind spots or flashing lights, and weakness or numbness on one side of the body. Physical activity typically doesn't aggravate the pain like it does migraines. Increased sensitivity to light or sound can occur, although it's not common.
Tension-type headaches usually are diagnosed based on symptoms. Your doctor will ask about the severity, frequency and duration of your headaches as well as other symptoms that occur and medications you are taking. Keeping a headache journal is a good way to track the location and severity of pain, duration of pain, medications taken and possible headache triggers.
If your doctor suspects a tumor or aneurysm, you may undergo one or more of the following tests:
Your doctor may prescribe drugs to prevent and treat tension headaches. Drugs that may help prevent tension headaches include:
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.