Types Of Headaches Tension Headaches Symptoms

Tension headache symptoms are familiar to most people: It’s a rare and lucky individual who’s never experienced a morning headache or tension headache. Unlike migraine or cluster headache symptoms, tension headache symptoms are not so severe that the headache sufferer cannot function. Tension and morning headache symptoms do, however, interfere with quality of life, especially when headaches are frequent.

Common Tension Headache Symptoms

The most common tension headache symptom is mild to moderate generalized head pain. Tension headache pain is sometimes described as feeling like a tight band is strapped around the head.

Tension headache pain symptoms are worse in the scalp area, around the temples, and the back of the head. Unlike migraines or cluster headache symptoms, a tension headache is not one-sided, rather the headache affects both sides of the head.

Tension headache symptoms may resolve in as little as thirty minutes, or last as long as a week. Symptoms often worsen with fatigue or exposure to loud noise or bright light.

The Morning Headache, Insomnia, and Sleeping Habits

A morning headache is a tension headache that develops as soon as the headache sufferer wakes up. Causes of morning headache include lack of sleep, tension-producing sleeping positions, stress, and even pillow choice. Changing sleeping positions or purchasing a new pillow may be enough to prevent a morning headache for some people.

A tension headache from the previous day is often enough to trigger a morning headache. Tension headache symptoms often result in insomnia or difficulty sleeping. Fatigue produced by these symptoms is enough to trigger a morning headache.

Triggers for Morning and Tension Headache Symptoms

Tension headaches and morning headache symptoms were once thought to result solely from muscle tension in the neck and shoulders (hence the term “tension headache”). In fact, many different conditions can trigger tension headache symptoms. To reflect this, the International Headache Society now uses the term “tension-type headaches” rather than “tension headaches.”

In addition to muscle tension, morning headache and tension headache symptoms may be triggered by:

  • colds and flu
  • depression
  • excessive caffeine consumption
  • extended car drives
  • eye strain
  • nasal congestion
  • physical overexertion
  • poor posture
  • sexual activity
  • sinusitis
  • smoking
  • stress
  • working in one position for long periods.

Episodic and Chronic Tension Headaches

Most people experience episodic tension or morning headaches; that is they only suffer from tension headache symptoms occasionally. Episodic tension headache symptoms are occasional headache, usually triggered by anger, stress, or anxiety. A sleepless night or fatigue may trigger an occasional morning headache.

Tension or morning headaches that occur more than fifteen days a month for several consecutive months are considered chronic. Chronic tension headache symptoms are present almost constantly. The headache may begin as a dull morning headache and grow in intensity over the course of the day. Chronic tension headache symptoms may indicate clinical depression or anxiety, and should receive medical attention.

Tension Headache Symptoms and Children

Tension headache symptoms are most common in adults and teenagers, but even young children can develop these headaches. Tiredness or insomnia may trigger a morning headache in children as well as in adults.

If children are too young to describe tension headache symptoms, identifying a headache can be difficult. Childhood tension headache symptoms such as crying, irritability, and vomiting can indicate a wide range of health conditions, so evaluation by a medical professional is necessary.

Some young children suffering from tension headache symptoms will hold their heads with their hands. Infants and very young children may bang their heads on the floor in an attempt to relieve headache pain.

Emergency Headache Symptoms

Tension headache symptoms and tension-based morning headaches do not have an “organic” cause. In other words, they are not the result of strokes, brain tumors, or other brain diseases or injuries. Certain headache symptoms should always be treated as medical emergencies, and are not normal to tension or morning headache symptoms.

Seek immediate medical assistance if headache symptoms include any of the following:

  • onset is sudden and severe (a “thunderclap” headache)
  • symptoms include double vision, confusion, seizures, or difficulty speaking
  • previously absent headache symptoms develop after age forty
  • headache is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, weakness, or numbness
  • headache symptoms develop after a head injury.

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians. (nd). Headaches. AAFP flowchart.

American Council for Headache Education. (updated 2004). Headache triggers

Mayo Foundation of Medical Education and Research. (2003). Tension-type headache.

National Headache Foundation. (nd). Tension-type headache.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2002). Tension headache. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.