Stress is a common trigger for tension-type, migraine headaches, and other types of headaches. It is defined as pain around the forehead or back of your head and neck.

Stress headaches are also called tension headaches or muscle contraction headaches. Young children and adults are mostly affected by it. The most common type of primary headache is stress headache.

Stress headache/ Tension headache is of two types :

  • Episodic tension headaches last less than 15 days in a month.
  • Chronic tension headaches last more than 15 days in a month.

These headaches may persist for 30 mins to a few days. The episodic headache begins slowly, in the middle of the day. Chronic ones vary more frequently over time. The pain may become more severe or less so, but it almost always persists.

The headache begins at the back of the head and spreads forward. Pain may be dull or squeezing around your entire head. Both sides of the head are affected. It makes muscles of the neck, shoulder and jaw sore and tight.

The exact cause of stress headaches is not known. But they are linked to nutritional, muscular, environmental, and genetics.

Rarely, sudden, acute head pain may indicate a serious medical condition, like a brain tumor.

Everyone faces stress at some point in life. However, there are numerous ways to manage it. We at Specialty Care Clinics help patients in different ways to manage stress headaches along with medication. If you are stressed and have a headache, connect with us today at 469-543-9983.

Stress Headache


  • Mild pain in front or sides of the head
  • Trouble speaking
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Trouble focusing
  • Fatigue


Stress headaches may be caused by certain foods or caffeine. It is sometimes linked to muscle tension in the neck and head.

Research suggests, often tension headaches are caused by the activation of hyperexcitable peripheral afferent neurons. These are particular neurons or nerve cells that transmit sensory data from the body’s pain receptors to the brain. You may have issues in your central pain processing if you frequently experience tension-type headaches or you may have increased sensitivity to the pain. One’s genetic factors may have an impact on their risk of tension headaches.

Tension headache triggers include :

  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Fatigue
  • Eye strain
  • Caffeine
  • Sinus infection
  • Dehydration
  • Not enough sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Cold or flu
  • Dental problems
  • Anxiety
  • Smoking
  • Dental problems

Stress Headache Diagnosis


80% of adults in the US experience stress headaches occasionally. And 3% experience chronic daily tension headaches every day. Women are twice as likely to get them as compared to men. Episodic tension headache people only have once or twice a month, however they can occur more frequently.


No diagnostic procedures exist to confirm a tension headache. The patient’s personal and family medical history, a review of their symptoms, and an examination are used to make the diagnosis. Doctors should take the possibility of a secondary headache disease into account when patients present with suspected tension-type headaches since tension-type headache-like symptoms are linked to secondary headaches (caused by an underlying cause or condition). It is important if someone develops a new headache or has headaches that are getting worse and more frequent.

Your symptoms may help your doctor make a diagnosis –

  • What is the location of pain?
  • How does the pain feel?
  • What is the duration of the headache?
  • Are you suffering from stress?
  • Do they keep you from falling asleep?
  • Any medicine you take?

Other conditions can be ruled out using tests :

  • Blood test
  • Imaging test (X-ray, CT scan, or MRI)

Stress Headache Treatment


At times, tension-type headache and migraine headache looks similar. In tension-type headaches, vomiting is not present, and if there is any nausea, it is not severe. But a migraine attack can occur as a result of a tension-type headache.

Tension headaches are mild to moderate whereas migraine is moderate to severe. If the pain is severe, you can confuse a tension headache for a migraine. This particular type of headache involves throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head. In contrast to tension headaches, migraines can also be made worse by exercise.


A common trigger of stress headaches is hunger and sleep. Ask yourself when you last had a meal and slept.

Treat stress headaches as soon they begin. The goal is to ease pain and prevent it from recurring. Tension headaches are usually treated first with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, over usage of these can result in rebound headaches.

Common over-the-counter medicines are –

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin

Your doctor might recommend a stronger medication if over-the-counter painkillers are ineffective.

The doctor might recommend a muscle relaxant if painkillers aren’t working.

With time, painkillers and other treatments may not be as effective as they were at first and all medicines have side effects. Talk to your doctor if you are taking medicine regularly. You’ll still need to find out what is really causing your headaches and treat them.


One method for preventing tension headaches is to identify the factors that trigger them. Make a note of every day that you have a stress headache.

There are several strategies to control stress, including :

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Massage Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback

A change in lifestyle may be beneficial :

  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise
  • Eat regular meals
  • Limit alcohol
  • Limit stress

Stress headaches are common and can be managed by medication and lifestyle changes. Need expert advice, connect with Specialty Care Clinics.

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