Off all the primary headaches (i.e. headache occurring without a known cause), tension headache is the most common. About 30 to 80% of adult population in U.S. is said to be suffering from tension headache. It is more common in women than men.
The pain occurs either at the back or in the temporal region of the head or it can be generalized. This pain can radiate to the eyes, neck and shoulders. It is a tight squeezing or pressure like sensation.
The patient complaints about the pain, that it is as if the head has been squeezed by a tight band. The pain may be severe enough to incapacitate an individual. A typical episode can last from 30 minutes to 3 to 4 hours.
Sometimes it can be for days. After an episode of headache, a person feels absolutely normal, with no sign remaining of the severe pain they were experiencing just before.
Tension headache can be episodic or chronic. There can be episodes every day or once in 2, 3 days for a fortnight or so and then the individual may become free from headache for months. But some people may have episodes of headache for months.
This results in anxiety, sleep disturbances and fatigue, thus affecting overall working of a person. The stress induced can bring forth further episodes of tension headache.
Mental stress, depression, anxiety are the most common underlying causes for somebody to have a tension headache Excess noise, bright lights, sleep deprivation, bad sleeping postures, caffeine withdrawal, hunger, fatigue, overuse of pain killer medications, are some of the other reasons for a tension headache.
Apart from this some people are said to be more prone to tension type headaches.
These are the people who are usually very ambitious and fiercely competitive. They wish to obtain their desired goals at any cost and have no patience. These are also the people who become stressed over trivial issues and become more prone to develop tension headache.
What causes a tension headache is not known exactly. Before, it was said to occur due to contraction of the muscles of the face and or neck or even jaw.
As per a current hypothesis, tension headache is said to occur due to hypersensitivity of synapses in brain or deficiency of some chemicals in brain which function as neurotransmitters (transmitting impulses from brain to body and vice versa).
Tension headache is diagnosed when one has the characteristic headache regularly or off and on. When on physical examination, no abnormality is detected, all relevant tests done for headache including C.T. scan and M.R.I. also reveal no abnormality, then the physician considers tension headache as the reason for the distress the patient is experiencing.
Left untreated, the headache improves over time. There is no sequel or complications. But during the time it lasts, it is very distressful for the sufferer. The headache responds to pain killer medicines very well but also relapses soon. Antidepressant drugs are also useful for relief in tension headache.
But taken over a long time, they tend to produce some dependence and side effects.
Therefore it is vital to learn to keep the mind relaxed to avoid tension headache. Deep breathing, meditation, breathing exercises of yoga, walking, music, dance, e.t.c. are measures which help in mental relaxation.
One can learn yoga or meditation and try doing it regularly. It would be very useful because apart from mental relaxation it provides many benefits to the mind and body.
One also has to adapt the mind to face stressful situations so that small problems do not cause tension headache.