Signs You’re Having A Stress Headache
You’re burning the candle at both ends, working as hard as you can and now this…another headache. You wonder, “Is it a migraine? Am I getting sick or is the tension is just getting to me?” How do you know when you’re having a stress headache? You don’t need an x-ray, lab test or special testing to diagnose a stress headache. Just read the signs.
Stress headaches are the most common kind of headaches adults experience. Millions of people get stress headaches as often as 15 times in a month any more than that and they’re called “chronic” headaches. Most, however, only get stress headaches once-in-a-while. They might last a half hour or less, or they might go on for hours. While there’s no singular cause for stress headaches, they often occur when the body is literally “under stress” like when you’re tired, worried, hungry, over-stimulated, working too hard or just fed up.
You know you’re having a stress headache when:
1. You have no other visual, auditory or other sensory symptoms. Migraine headaches often start with a telltale “aura.” That’s a sign you’re about to have a migraine. Migraine headaches are also often accompanied by nausea.
2. You aren’t oversensitive to light or sound. Bright lights and loud noises may not exactly help your headache, but they don’t make it a lot worse either. Migraine sufferers are usually extremely light and sound sensitive. Stress headaches only cause mild light and sound sensitivity
What Causes Tension Headaches
There are two schools of thought about the cause of tension-type headaches. One is that the headaches cause muscle tension. The other posits that muscle tension causes tension headaches. .
Earlier research showed that tension headaches were a result of the muscles in the head and neck tensing up. In fact, they were even called a muscle-contraction headache.
A more recent study points to this muscle-contraction theory potentially not holding water. This study looked at patients who received Botox injections to paralyze the temporal muscle Despite the freezing of the muscles, participants didnt see any significant decreases in their headaches.
The more recent research points to headaches being caused by trigger points in the myofascial tissue,which is the tissue that encases all of your body’s organs, bones, etc.
We think the myofascial tissues send signals to the brain increased activity in those pain pathways. They become more sensitized and dysregulated, says Dr. Jennifer Robblee, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Jan & Tom Lewis Migraine Treatment Program, Barrow Neurological Institute.
Some triggers may include:
How Neck Pain May Feel With Tension Headache
Neck pain that may accompany a tension headache typically feels achy, tender, and/or tight. In cases where neck pain started before the tension headache, such as from trauma or a chronic neck condition, the neck pain may feel more intense, such as sharp or burning. Sensitivity of the trapezius muscle in the upper neck is common in tension headache, along with stiffness of the neck and scalp muscles.
There are 3 types of tension headache depending on frequency 1:
- Infrequent episodic tension headache: Lasts less than 12 days per year
- Frequent episodic tension headache: Lasts more than 12 days and less than 180 days per year
- Chronic tension headache: Lasts more than 180 days per year
While infrequent episodic tension headache is usually self-managed, frequent episodic and chronic tension headache can cause high disability and prompt medical consultation.
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What Is A ‘stress’ Headache And How Can You Treat It
It’s the most common type of headache you can getbut the term “stress” headache isn’t entirely accurate.
Right now, stress feels like the new normaland more stress in your life can lead to changes in your health.
Headaches in particular are often brought about by increased stress levels, but while “stress headaches” may be a good description of what’s going on in your body, it’s not an entirely accurate diagnosis. Here’s what you need to know about headaches triggered by stress, and how to help relieve the pain.
How Are They Treated
Most people can treat their tension headaches with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or aspirin.
But if you take these pain relievers more than 3 times a week, you may get rebound headaches. These are different from tension headaches. Rebound headaches usually start after pain medicine has worn off, which leads you to take another dose. After a while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking the medicine.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine if you get chronic tension headaches.
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Take Medicines As Your Doctor Advises
If you have mild to moderate headaches, your doctor probably will want you to take over-the-counter medicines to stop your headaches. These include medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen . Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
If over-the-counter medicines don’t stop your headaches well enoughor you get a lot of headachesyour doctor may prescribe medicine to prevent headaches.
Don’t take medicine too often. Talk to your doctor if you’re taking medicine more than 3 days a week to stop a headache, or if you have a headache on more than 15 days a month. Taking too much over-the-counter pain medicine can lead to more headaches. These are called rebound headaches.
Compassionate Healing Starts Here
What do the headaches feel like?
How long do the headaches last?
Have there been changes in behavior or personality?
Do changes in position or sitting up cause the headache?
Do you have trouble sleeping?
Do you have a history of stress?
Have you had a head injury?
How many headache days you have?
How many days do you take a pain killer to treat those headaches?
Do you miss work or life activities because of headaches?
Your healthcare provider may also do other tests. These can rule out other health problems that may be causing your symptoms. You may need:
Blood tests. These and other lab tests may be run to check for underlying conditions.
Sinus X-rays. This imaging test checks for congestion, infection, or other problems that may be fixed.
MRI. This test uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures in the body.
CT scan. This test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than standard X-rays.
How are tension headaches treated?
The goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Reducing stress and tension can help. Some suggestions are:
Most people find over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen are all they need. Using these medicines too often can cause more headaches. So use them carefully.
How can I help prevent tension headaches?
When should I call my healthcare provider?
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Making The Correct Diagnosis
The importance of thorough history and examination in patients with headache has already been emphasized. It is very important to exclude secondary headaches, to recognize comorbid conditions and finally to establish whether TTH coexist with migraine. It is also extremely important to detect whether the headaches are being aggravated by overuse of medications. In many patients with long history of typical headaches with normal examination, the diagnosis of TTH can be made without special investigations at the same time, if felt necessary the investigations like neuro-imaging should not be withheld to exclude a secondary cause.
Living With Tension Headaches
You may have fewer headachesand less pain when you do get themif you:
- Find and avoid triggers for your headaches.
- Keep a headache diary to find out what triggers your headaches.
- Take over-the-counter drugs to stop a headache.
- Take medicine as your doctor advises to stop or prevent a headache.
- Reduce stress with relaxation and positive-thinking methods.
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How Do You Know If You Have Anxiety Headaches
- Your headaches are frequently accompanied by additional physical manifestations of stress or anxiety.
- Your degree of worry and stress seems to have a direct correlation with the frequency and severity of your headaches.
- You can frequently feel the beginning stages of a tension headache building up in your brain.
The muscles in your brain are beginning to show the first symptoms of tension, and you can feel it growing.
As If Stress Werent Bad Enough On Its Own It Can Both Trigger And Worsen Headaches
Modern life is stressful and, unfortunately, that doesnt seem likely to change any time soon. From the moment your alarm clock jolts you out of bed until youre finally done for the day, you are likely to experience some amount of stress. This can be in the form of anxiety or other psychological pressures, or physical stress such as eye and neck strain from sitting at a computer. While a little stress is tolerable, too much can have damaging effects on your health.i Many symptoms can be attributed to the mental and physiological pressures were under. These can range from fatigue to stomach upset to sleep problems. Top of the list? That nagging headache.ii
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When To See A Doctor
Aside from the use of stress management techniques, many people find that over-the-counter stress relievers are also very helpful. However, particularly with migraines, heavier medications may prove to be more useful. And because some headaches can be associated with more serious health conditions, its important to see a doctor if you have severe headaches or if you just suspect that something may be significantly wrong.
Either way, stress management can be helpful, but if you’re concerned about your headaches and they interfere with your daily activities or you seem to need more help than stress management alone, it’s always a good idea to run things by your doctor to be sure there are no serious issues at play, or to find the help you need to be more comfortable in your daily life.
Are Headaches Caused By Stress
Many people may wonder if headaches are a direct result of stress. The answer is yes, no, and maybe. Stress can cause many headaches and they can exacerbate others. However, knowing the type of headache you are dealing with can help you to know if stress is a trigger, a contributor, or simply a by-product of the type of headache you are experiencing, so you know the best ways to focus on pain relief and prevention.
While some headaches are blamed entirely on stress, there can be other factors at play as well likewise, some headaches can be blamed on a predisposition to headaches when stress can be a primary trigger. In all cases, it helps to understand more about the nature of the headaches you are experiencing and their relationship to stress.
There are three different types of headaches, two of which are not caused primarily by stress, and one that may be:
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Diet And Lifestyle Changes
Making healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet is another means of managing the headaches associated with anxiety disorders. Key lifestyle changes to incorporate include:
- Keep a headache diary: Keep a log of when your headaches and other symptoms are happening, what medications youre taking, what youre eating and drinking, levels of tension and stress, and any other factors that may influence your condition. The more you know about your headaches and anxiety, the better youll be able to treat them.
- Exercise:Regular activity and ensuring your fitness can go a long way in managing anxiety disorders and headache attacks. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of light to moderate activity. Start small and scale up as you make progress.
- Manage weight:Higherweight is linked with increased incidence and rates of migraine and other headache disorders. Working to manage weight through diet, exercise, and other means can reduce the frequency of attacks.
What Is A Tension Headache
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in these headaches. Tension headaches typically don’t cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. They do cause a steady ache, rather than a throbbing one, and tend to affect both sides of the head. Tension headaches may be chronic, occurring often, or every day.
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What Are The Types Of Tension
Healthcare providers break down tension headaches into two main types. They base the type on how many headaches you have and how often:
- Episodic tension-type headaches happen less often . Your provider may call them infrequent if you have one or fewer headaches each month.
- Chronic tension-type describe when your headache days outnumber headache-free days. Chronic tension headaches happen 15 or more days each month for more than three months in a row.
How Do You Relieve Tension Headaches
- Headaches of the tension variety can be brought on by tense muscles.
- If the muscles in your neck and shoulders are tight, try applying heat or ice to them.
- Make use of a heating pad that is adjusted to a low setting, a hot water bottle, a warm compress, a heated cloth, or a hot shower or bath.
Alternately, place an ice pack that has been wrapped in a towel across the top of the head, or a cool washcloth.
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What Type Of Headache Do You Have
Headaches are familiar to nearly everyone: in any given year, almost 90% of men and 95% of women have at least one. In the vast majority of cases, however, the pain isn’t an omen of some terrible disease. The three most common types of headaches are tension, sinus, and migraine. The most common headache triggers are stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, hunger, and caffeine withdrawal.
When Should I Call An Ambulance
Most headaches are not serious. But headaches can also be a sign of a serious illness, such as a stroke or meningitis.
- it comes on suddenly, is very severe, or has made you lose consciousness
- you have suffered a head injury
- you have trouble seeing, walking or speaking
- your arms or legs feel numb
- you have nausea or vomiting
- you have a high fever
- you are sensitive to light and have a new rash
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When To Contact A Medical Professional
- You are experiencing “the worst headache of your life.”
- You have speech, vision, or movement problems or loss of balance, especially if you have not had these symptoms with a headache before.
- The headache starts very suddenly.
- The headache occurs with repeated vomiting.
- You have a high fever.
Also, call your provider if:
- Your headache patterns or pain change.
- Treatments that once worked are no longer helpful.
- You have side effects from medicines, including irregular heartbeat, pale or blue skin, extreme sleepiness, persistent cough, depression, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, cramps, dry mouth, or extreme thirst.
- You are pregnant or could become pregnant. Some medicines should not be taken when pregnant.
Are There Any Risks To Taking Medication To Treat Tension Headaches
Over-the-counter pain relievers are generally safe. But overusing pain relievers can cause other problems. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Always check in with your provider if you feel the need to use pain relievers more than twice a week.
Take these medications only when you need them. Use the smallest dose that relieves your pain.
In general, overusing pain medications may cause:
- Headaches: Taking pain relievers too often can actually cause a headache when you stop taking the medicine. This effect is similar to withdrawal.
- Other side effects: All drugs have side effects. Avoid taking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen, too often. Overuse may cause stomach pain, bleeding or ulcers. If you take any medication regularly, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
- Reduced benefits over time: Your body can build up a tolerance any medication. You may notice that a medication youve used regularly doesnt work as well as it once did.
- Dependence: Some medications can become addictive. They may pose more risks than benefits. For that reason, healthcare providers usually recommend against prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotics to treat tension headaches.
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Headaches Consistently Get Worse Or More Frequent
If you dont usually get headaches and get them regularly, it could be a red flag. An unusual onset of headaches is a significant sign that you are experiencing tension headaches, especially true if the headaches start increasing in intensity or frequency.
The pain from a stress headache is similar to a migraine, so it can be hard to differentiate sometimes. Headaches caused by stress usually dont affect your daily activities, though, even with worsening symptoms.
Other Things To Think About
- Even with treatment, you will most likely still get some tension headaches. But you probably will get them less often. And they may hurt less when you do get them.
- If you also have depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor. Treatment for these health problems also may help you have fewer headaches.
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Can You Prevent Tension Headaches
Even with treatment, most people still have some headaches. But with treatment, you will probably have them less often. And when you do get them, they probably won’t be as bad.
Home treatment may help you avoid headaches. You can:
- Try to reduce stress.
- Make sure you sleep, exercise, and eat on a regular schedule.
- Make sure you practice good posture. Stand and sit up straight.
- Try not to strain your eyes when you use your computer.
- Get treatment for depression or anxiety if you have those health problems.
- Try using a headache diary. Every time you get a headache, write down the date, the time, and what you were doing and feeling before your headache started. This may help you and your doctor find out what is causing your headaches. Then your doctor can use the diary to plan your treatment.