The most common type of primary headache is the tension headache. Occurrences usually begin in middle age and may be associated with the stresses, anxiety, and depression that can develop over the years. Nearly 75% - 90% of all sufferers of chronic or frequent headaches suffer from tension headaches. Tension headaches occur more often with women than men.
Common causes of tension headaches include stress, muscular tension, vascular dilation, changes in posture, coughing or sneezing and fever. Certain physical and mental conditions can lead to chronic muscular tension and headache, including anxiety, arthritis in neck or spine, degenerative disc disease in the neck or spine, depression and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).
Researchers have found that tension headaches and migraines represent two ends of a common spectrum. Migraines, which are severe but irregular in occurrence, may progress or evolve to the less severe, but more frequent, tension-variety headache.
Headache treatment will depends on the type, severity and frequency of occurrence.
Many tension headache sufferers do not seek medical attention or advice, instead they use self treatment techniques such as nonprescription analgesics and over-the-counter pain medications. In cases where tension headaches are severe or frequent enough to seek professional treatment, relief may be found through a course of doctor-prescribed antidepressant or anxiety-reducing medications, such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline or desipramine.
It is important to avoid medication overuse, as this can lead to "rebound headaches." A “rebound headache” occurs when high levels of the drug in the body actually cause daily headaches. In most cases, rebound headaches improve when the medication is stopped.
Due to potentially severe gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects, NSAIDs should only be used as instructed.
Some secondary treatments that may help reduce the effects of stress and tension on the body include massage, meditation and the use of biofeedback techniques. Some patients may benefit from the effects of psychotherapy in order to learn how to deal with stress and tension.
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