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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Tension headaches are most often caused by stress, eye strain, or muscle tightness. The pain of a tension headache may start in the forehead or the back of the head. The pain often spreads over the whole head and down into the neck and shoulders. Over-the-counter pain medicine is the most useful and common treatment for a tension headache. Exercise, biofeedback, meditation, or relaxation techniques may also decrease your headache pain.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You have a sudden headache that seems different or much worse than your usual headaches.
- You have difficulty seeing, speaking, or moving.
- You pass out, become confused, or have a seizure.
- You have a headache, fever, and a stiff neck.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- Your headaches continue to get worse.
- Your headaches happen so often that they affect your ability to do your work or normal activities.
- You need to take medicine to help your headaches more often than your healthcare provider says you should.
- Your headaches get so bad that they cause you to vomit.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Acetaminophen decreases pain. Acetaminophen is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
- Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Bring your headache log with you when you see your healthcare provider. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
Manage your symptoms:
- Keep a headache record. Include when they start and stop and what made them better. Describe your symptoms, such as how the pain feels, where it is, and how bad it is. Record anything you ate or drank for the past 24 hours before your headache. Bring this to follow-up visits.
- Apply heat as directed. Heat may help decrease headache pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
- Apply ice as directed. Ice may help decrease headache pain. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.
Prevent tension headaches:
- Avoid muscle tension. Do not stay in one position for long periods of time. Use a different pillow if you wake up with sore neck and shoulder muscles. Find ways to relax your muscles, such as massage or resting in a quiet, dark room.
- Avoid eye strain. Make sure you have good lighting when you read, sew, or do similar activities. Get yearly eye exams and wear glasses as directed.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Do not eat foods that trigger your headaches.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise helps decrease stress and headaches. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can trigger a headache. It can also prevent medicines from being able to stop your headache.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can trigger a headache and also cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.