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What are the Symptoms of Tension Headaches?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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The symptoms of tension headaches usually include a dull pain and a feeling of pressure in one area of the head, though this can occur in a larger area around the head, most often around the back and sides. It is often accompanied by muscle tightness in the shoulders and neck, as well as a feeling of tightness in the scalp, though these symptoms are not always present with tension headaches. The symptoms of tension headaches are often mistaken for a migraine, mostly because both types of headaches have the capability of lasting for just a few hours up to a week or more, but there are a few ways to tell them apart.

Though some people's appetites are affected as one of the symptoms of tension headaches, this is not as common as it is with a migraine headache, which often causes nausea or vomiting. In addition, sensitivity to light as well as increased pain with any type of physical activity are two of the most common symptoms of migraines that are not usually symptoms of tension headaches. The ability to identify a headache as a tension headache or a migraine is important in order to treat the headache and start feeling better, as well as to prevent headaches in the future.

Tension headache symptoms can appear anytime, but they often appear at the end of the day, particularly if one has been feeling stressed throughout the day. Poor posture can also be a cause of a tension headache, because it leads to tightness in the neck and shoulders, which then leads to headache pain. Tension headaches can usually be identified by corresponding feelings of stress or anxiety that day, as well as the trademark muscle tightness; some people are prone to tension headaches, and find that they need to make actual lifestyle changes in order to prevent them from occurring.

Some people find that other symptoms of tension headaches include a difficulty falling asleep or getting enough sleep throughout the night because of constant wakings due to the pain. Others will experience feelings of irritability or trouble concentrating, often accompanied by a feeling of fatigue. Symptoms of tension headaches may be alleviated by taking an over the counter pain reliever, doing a relaxing activity such as taking a bath, eating a meal if the headache is accompanied by hunger, and getting some rest. If the headaches become frequent, or suddenly become intensely painful, it is important to visit a doctor for assessment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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