Dealing with Tension Headaches

May 16, 2016

Dear Readers,
University student, Rachel, 20, from Mona Heights, suffers from headaches regularly. She hardly goes a week without headaches. They are worse around exam time. They hit her forehead, the sides and tend to worsen as the day passes. She has been told she has migraine and tension headaches. She takes pills, which work, sometimes. She asked what to do. Does she need counselling as suggest by her doctor?
Rachel sounds like she is suffering from tension headaches. This seems especially so as she is taking exams, which cause stress in even the very best of students!
Tension headaches are the most common experienced by adults and are also called ‘stress’ headaches.
These can occur as episodic (less than 15 days per month) or chronic (occurring more than 15 days per month).
They are usually described as a ‘band-like’ pain, ‘tightness’ or ‘pressure’ around the forehead and to the back of the head, near the neck.
The headaches usually begin at a low level of discomfort and gradually increase as the day progresses.
It can also sometimes present as a ‘throbbing’ headache to the forehead and sides of the head.
Tension headaches, unlike migraine, do not affect vision, balance or strength. Neither are they so severe that they prevent functioning or performing daily tasks.
Majority of adults will, occasionally, experience this headache at some time. Women are twice likely to suffer from these. Most people don’t experience them more than once or twice a month. During stressful times the headaches can occur more frequently.
These headaches are not inherited and occur mostly because of tightening of the muscles at the back of the neck and over the scalp. Causes for this type of headache include:
n Emotional or mental stress
n Anxiety
n Anemia (weak blood)
n Tiredness
n Poor posture
n Hunger
n Over-exertion

Some people develop tension headaches after working with a computer screen for a long time or after driving for a long period. Other triggers for tension headaches include:
n Alcohol intake
n Eye strain
n Smoking
n Caffeine intake
n Cold or flu

Symptoms include a dull pain in the head with a sensation of a band around the forehead. Tenderness is sometimes felt to the scalp and forehead. More severe tension headaches associated with a ‘throbbing’ sensation will still not cause nausea or vomiting.
When tension headaches are severe and recurring. they should not be ignored. It could be something else happening.
Brain tumours do occur albeit much more rarely. When in doubt, a brain CT scan or MRI is the only investigative test, outside of a doctor’s examination, which will help resolve the cause.
These headaches will often respond well to over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, Advil, aspirin, Panadol, and Cetadine. However, care to prevent overuse of medications must be taken as rebound headaches can occur.
Sometimes, prescription-level medication is needed, which will require a doctor’s visit. Occasionally, anti-depressant medication is used as they can help prevent stress.
Vitamins and supplements can be taken to help prevent the headaches. Some recommended are:
n Coenzyme Q10
n Magnesium
n Vitamin B-2

Acupuncture is also recommended for treatment of these headaches. When they do occur the person can do a few things to help speed them on their way.
n Applying a heated pad or ice pack to the forehead for five to10 minutes several times daily.
n Take a hot bath to relax the muscles
n Take frequent breaks from the computer screen when working or using one for extended periods of time.
n Improving one’s posture
n Try to identify and avoid possible triggers
n Keep a headache diary and record what you ate or had to drink, or smelled, just before a headache occurs. Record any tension-filled moments also.
A trigger may be isolated from the list as recurring often in association with the headaches.
Chronic tension headaches can affect the quality of persons suffering in a negative way, slowing the person down and limiting activities.
If this is occurring, a visit to the doctor is necessary to resolve the significant discomfort!

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