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What is a tension headache?

Dr. Charisse Litchman

Medically reviewed by Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, FAHS on August 18, 2020

A tension headache is characterized by steady, pressured pain on both sides of the head. These headaches are more often mild or moderate in intensity, and not made worse by physical activity. They are usually not accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound.

Over-the-counter pain remedies such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are often an effective treatment for tension headaches. If your tension headaches are frequent and not adequately controlled by pain relief medication, Nurx provides prescription treatment. If you have experienced at least 10 tension headaches that occur between 1-14 times per month on average for more than three months, you may benefit from taking a daily preventive medication to reduce the frequency of your headaches or eliminate them entirely.

You may also be able to reduce the frequency or intensity of your tension headaches with stress reduction techniques, such as exercise, meditation,  yoga, massage, acupuncture, applying a hot or cold compress to your head, or massaging your temples with peppermint essential oil.

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