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Signs & Symptoms Neurology & Neurosurgery

Tension Headaches
Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • Mild to moderately intense pain, lasting from 30 minutes to as long as an entire week
  • Tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head
  • Tenderness on your scalp, neck and shoulders
  • Sometimes, loss of appetite

Tension headaches are considered chronic if they occur 15 or more days a month for at least three months. They're considered episodic 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.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.