Tension Headache

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What is a tension headache?

There are many different kinds of headaches including tension headaches, migraine, and cluster headaches

Headaches are not normally dangerous, but rarely, a severe, or sudden headache can be a symptom of something serious like a brain tumour or a Brain haemorrhage.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and nearly everyone experiences them from time to time. 

There are 2 types of tension headaches:

  • Episodic tension-type headaches happen less than 15 days a month
  • Chronic tension-type headaches occur on 15 or more days a month


How do I know if I have a tension headache? 

Common symptoms of a tension headache include: 

  • constant (not throbbing) pain across both sides of the head, often at the front
  • pain may get worse as the day goes on
  • a feeling of pressure like a tight band around the head
  • mild or moderate pain (but not usually severe) 

the affected area may be sensitive to touch


Since Covid 19, there are a number of symptoms that can mimic or are present in a Covid 19 infection. We would advise that you go through our Covid 19 guide or use the link below to access regularly updated Covid 19 guidance. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – NHS

Why am I getting tension headaches?

The exact cause of tension headaches is not known, and different things may trigger tension headaches in different people. Sometimes tension headaches occur for no apparent reason. 

 Some common causes of tension headaches include: 

  • stress, anxiety, or emotional tension
  • eye strain, such as from looking at a computer screen for a long time
  • physical tension in the scalp, or neck
  • pain in the head or neck caused by other problems such as temporomandibular disorders (TMD) that affect the jaw 
  • tiredness and lack of quality sleep
  • hunger 
  • external factors like cold, heat, noise, or bright sunlight 
  • caffeine
  • taking painkillers frequently over a long period of time can trigger a type of headache called an overuse or rebound headache

Though they may be uncomfortable, tension headaches are not usually dangerous or a sign of an underlying health problem. Rarely, tension-type headaches can be a sign of thyroid disease, an underlying tumour, or chronic migraine. If you are over 50 and start having tension headaches for the first time, make an appointment with a doctor.

How to get rid of tension headaches

You can normally treat tension headaches yourself with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Some things you can do to treat and prevent tension headaches at home include: 

    • taking over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medication carefully, and check with your GP or pharmacist that it is safe for you to take. Children under 16 years of age should not take aspirin. 
    • get plenty of sleep. A good bedtime and sleep hygiene routine can help promote healthy sleep.
    • practice activities that promote relaxation and relieve stress like yoga, breathing techniques, meditation, and massage
    • if you have neck pain, try using heat or cold packs and sleeping with a low firm pillow
    • cut down on caffeine in drinks like coffee, tea, and cola
  • take regular exercise
  • For long-term (chronic) tension headaches that aren’t relieved by over-the-counter medications, an antidepressant called amitriptyline may be prescribed by your doctor. 


see a doctor if you have: 

  • severe headaches
  • throbbing pain at the front or on one side of your head
  • headaches several times a week
  • feel sick or vomit (throw up)
  • find light or noise painful 


Call an ambulance or go to hospital immediately if your headache is: 

    • sudden or severe
  • accompanied by a stiff neck, fever that doesn’t go away, confusion, weakness, or slurred speech
  •  new frequent headaches after the age of 50
  • headache that occurs after a head injury or concussion

Get help from an online doctor

An online doctor’s appointment is a great place to start if you are worried about headaches. Keeping a headache journal can be helpful before your appointment as this will help your doctor understand more about your headaches. Some things to note down in the journal include:

  • how long you have been having symptoms
  • how often you have symptoms
  • if your symptoms are worse at certain times of the day
  • if your symptoms start after eating certain foods
  • if your headache gets better when you take painkillers 
  • your stress levels

Based on your symptoms, our doctors can make a diagnosis of what type of headache you have, advise you on how to manage your headaches, and recommend or prescribe suitable medication. They can also advise on further investigations and follow-up appointments if necessary. 

Making an online video appointment is quick and easy at Medicspot. Simply click the link, choose a time and day that suits you, and have your consultation via video link from your phone wherever you are. 

Appointments are available Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm.

Get help from a pharmacist

Pharmacists can be a great source of information if you are suffering from tension headaches. A pharmacist can advise you about over-the-counter medications and recommend one that is safe for you to take. If you are pregnant, talk to your pharmacist about which painkillers are safe to take during pregnancy. If difficulty sleeping is triggering your headaches, talk to your pharmacist about trying a natural sleep aid. Pharmacists can also give information about other products that may help with headaches such as neck support pillows, and heat and ice packs.

Find a Pharmacy Near You 


Tension headaches are a common, but bothersome part of life for many people. Fortunately, tension headaches are rarely a sign of a serious health issue and are easily treated with simple lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. If you suffer from tension headaches and would like to speak to a doctor, make an appointment with a GP today. 



NHS: Tension headaches March 4th 2022 (Accessed October 13th 2022) 

Cleveland Clinic: Tension-Type Headaches February 4th 2021 (Accessed October 13th 2022)

Patient: Tension Headache March 14th 2018  (Accessed October 13th 2022)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: Headache-tension-type July 2022  (Accessed October 13th 2022)

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