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Tension-type headache, the most common type of headaches, is not vascular headache, and is not related to organic disease. Nearly 90 percent of headaches are tension-type.
Signs and symptoms
Occasionally, tension-type headaches will be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and blurred vision, but there is no aura (pre-headache syndrome) as with migraine. Tension-type headaches have not been linked to hormones or foods, as has migraine, nor is there a strong hereditary connection.
A tension-type headache sufferer may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• A tightening band-like sensation around the neck and/or head
• A diffuse, usually mild to moderate pain over the top of the head that may produce a feeling of fullness or pressure, as if a constricting band is around the head
• Pain primarily occurs in the forehead, temples, and the back of the neck at the base of the skull.
• Difficulty sleeping
Headache Symptoms in Children
Most young people have had some type of headache by the time they reach high school. In fact, even very young children can experience head pain. But if your child is too young to describe what's wrong, headaches can be difficult to diagnose because of the similar signs to other conditions, such as crying, paleness and vomiting. Sometimes very young children with headaches will hold their head or bang it on the floor.
Until a few years ago, researchers believed tension-type headache pain was the result of contracted muscles in the face, neck and scalp and an inability to deal with stress. But more recent research has altered this view. Therefore, the International Headache Society changed the term tension headache to tension-type headache, calling attention to the fact that muscle tension may not be the main cause of this kind of head pain.
Although much about headaches still isn't understood, researchers now believe changes in serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain may play a role in tension-type headaches. Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that regulates pain messages moving through the trigeminal nerve pathway — a major pathway for pain. Endorphins are natural painkillers produced by the brain and spinal cord.
Headaches in Children
Chronic tension-type headaches in children are similar to headaches in adults and are often caused by stress, anxiety or depression. Although adults may not always realize it, children can experience tremendous stress — ranging from peer pressure and unreasonable parental expectations to difficulty in school and physical or sexual abuse. And all children, even very young ones, can suffer from depression.
Tension-type Headache Triggers
Doctors don't completely understand what causes changes in these brain chemicals, but there seem to be a number of factors that can trigger tension-type headaches.
Research has shown that for many people, chronic tension-type headaches are caused by depression and anxiety. These people tend to get their headaches in the early morning or evening when conflicts in the office or home are anticipated.
Physical postures that tense head and neck muscles - such as holding one's chin down while reading - can lead to head and neck pain. So can prolonged writing under poor light, or holding a phone between the shoulder and ear, or even gum-chewing.
Screening and Diagnosis
If a sufferer has chronic or recurrent headaches, the following two approaches will help to pinpoint the type and cause of the headache:
• Keep a headache calendar. One of the most helpful things the patient can do is keep a headache calendar for at least a 2-month period. Each time getting a headache, jot down a description of the pain, including severity, location, frequency and duration, and any other symptoms. Also note any medications are taken.
• Conducting tests. If the sufferer has unusual or complicated headaches, the physician may order tests to rule out serious causes of head pain, such as a tumor or an aneurysm. Two common tests used to image the brain are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Lifestyle changes are ultimately the best way to combat tension-type headaches.
• Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or biking, can help reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches. Exercise relieves stress, relaxes muscles and increases the levels of one of your body's natural stress relievers, Beta-Endorphin. In some cases, however, exercise may bring on a headache, so check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
• Manage stress. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, yoga, and meditation.
In the past few years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have released several statements to confirm that Acupuncture is an effective and efficient therapy for the pain relief, including the headache and migraine.
The researchers believe that the Beta-endorphins (the body's natural painkilling hormones) are released into the blood stream and spinal column by stimulating the specific acupoints with hair-like sterilized, disposal, stainless steel needles.
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