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Tension Headache

Do you feel a dull ache on both sides of the head? Do the muscles in the neck and head feel tight ? You are most likely suffering a tension headache or stress headache as it is otherwise referred. Such headaches are one of the most common forms of headache and can occur in adults and adolescents. The pain due to tension headache is vise-like and is generalized. Tension headaches may result from fluctuations in the levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins and others. Tension headaches are noticed more often in women.


Tension headaches occur due to contraction of neck and scalp muscles. This contraction can be a reaction to stress, anxiety or posture. Excessive smoking, alcohol use, sinusitis, eye strain can also bring on tension headache. Unlike migraine, tension headaches do not cause nausea and vomiting or numbness. Episodic tension headaches come a couple of times a month and last a few hours. If there are frequent episodes of tension headache, the condition is chronic. Skipping meals, stress, hormonal changes and hypertension medication can trigger tension headaches. Such headaches often have a genetic predisposition.


Tension Headache and Treatment

Treatment:
There are many issues to consider before arriving at treating headaches - frequency, severity, the effect on lifestyle, the results of previous treatment and any history of drug abuse. Mild cases of tension headaches which occur occasionally can be managed with symptomatic treatment by using Analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Tension headaches are treated with NSAIDs, aspirin or acetaminophen. A non sedating muscle relaxant such as Skelaxin provides relief to persons suffering from tension headaches. Those who suffer from frequent bouts of tension headaches may need medications to reduce anxiety such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline or desipramine. But overuse of these medicines can lead to rebound headaches. You can try some of the following measures to bring tension headaches under control:


  • Enough rest

  • Regular exercise regimen

  • Warm or cold compress on the head and neck

  • Relaxation exercises, yoga, deep breathing, acupuncture

  • Good posture while sleeping, reading, using the computer

  • Massage

  • Swimming


Prophylactic Therapy :
If the frequency of headaches is so regular or if the severity of the headache is so high that the patient can't normally cope, then prophylactic therapy might be indicated. Antidepressants are the drugs of choice for treating tension type headache. Relief of headache may take about 3 to 4 weeks and the patient may have the following side effects:


  • sedation
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • constipation
  • urinary retention

Amitriptyline - single dose of 25 mg at bed time may be a good option. Trazodone (75 to 300 mg at bedtime) or Fluoxetine (20 to 40 mg at lunchtime) are other options if the patient does not tolerate the sedative and anticholinergic effects of amitriptyline.

There are other alternate options like Cervical Epidural Nerve Block which can be performed on a regular basis depending on clinical symptoms.


Biofeedback Training

Biofeedback training is a process wherein the patient is trained to improve his/her health by using signals from his/her own body. It helps a person control physiological processes such as blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. These processes actually are involuntary but can be manipulated and controlled at will. Biofeedback therapy is used to treat conditions such as migraine headache, tension headache, urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, chronic pain, etc.


The concept behind biofeedback training is very interesting. It utilizes the power of the mind to become aware of what is happening within the body. This awareness helps a person to gain more control over bodily functions, involuntary ones too. This therapy works wonders on people experiencing stress. Stress can cause fluctuations in blood pressure and biofeedback therapy aids in relaxation.


Electrodes are attached to the patient's skin, which sends information to the monitor. Based on the monitor reading, the therapist understands the mental activities of the patient. The parameters that are monitored include blood pressure, sweating, breathing rate, and muscle activity. If a patient is experiencing stress at a particular moment the above mentioned parameters may alter. Understanding this alteration can help understand which part of the body needs to relax.


Depending on the severity of the issue, the number of sessions may vary. A session may typically last from 30 minutes to one hour. Biofeedback therapy does not have any side effects or pose any risk and is a non-invasive procedure. To undertake a session in biofeedback therapy, it is advisable to work with a health care professional trained in biofeedback.


Biofeedback therapy uses

Biofeedback therapy can be used to treat:

Chronic pain: Helps in identifying tight muscles and relaxing them, relieves lower back pain, abdominal pain, etc. This therapy benefits people across all age groups.

Anxiety: Anxiety relief is one huge area wherein biofeedback therapy can be very helpful. The therapy helps understand the body's responses when a person is stressed and anxious. By understanding this, one can control body response using biofeedback therapy.

Urinary incontinence: People may have trouble in controlling the urge to urinate. This therapy, particularly in women helps in tightening the pelvic floor muscles that control the urge/feeling to urinate. It is helpful in treating kids who bed wet.

Headache: Stress and muscle tension can cause headaches like migraine and other types of headache. This therapy can help relax the muscles and reduce frequency as well as severity of the headache.


Other conditions that can be cured using biofeedback therapy include ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), asthma, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), high blood pressure, etc. Different relaxation exercises used in biofeedback therapy:


  • Deep breathing

  • Guided imagery: Concentrating on a specific image and focusing on the image to make the person feel relaxed.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Alternately tightening and relaxing various muscle groups.

  • Mindfulness meditation: Focusing thoughts to let go of negative emotions.

Biofeedback therapy types

Neuro feedback: Used to measure brain wave feedback. Used to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

Thermal biofeedback: Used to measure skin temperature. Used to treat headache and Raynaud's disease.

Electromyography: Used to measure muscle activity and tension. Used to treat conditions such as headaches, back pain, anxiety disorder, incontinence, muscle retraining after injury.

Electrodermal activity: Used to measure sweating and can be used in pain and anxiety.



Migraine

Nearly everyone gets headaches. But while some are tension headaches or headaches caused by a cold. Migraine headaches tend to be severe and recurrent and are often accompanied by nausea. What begins as a pain on one side of the head may spread to both sides. Most migraine headaches are caused by a change in the blood flow pattern to the brain.


Triggered by stress or other factors, arteries supplying blood to the brain may constrict. Serotonin, a chemical may also have a role to play since it is released from nerve fibers that coil around the blood vessels. To tackle this, certain arteries within the brain may dilate to accommodate better oxygen supply. This dilation may result in migraine headaches. While anyone can get migraine headaches, they are more common in women.


Causes of migraine

Often changes in weather or altitude can cause migraine headaches. If you have irregular sleeping patterns (too much or too little), it may be the cause for migraine headaches. An interruption of your regular sleep pattern may bring on a headache. Strong odors, bright lights and loud noises are known to be triggers for a migraine attack. Fasting is yet another triggering factor for migraine headache. Women may experience migraine headaches on account of their menstrual cycle, birth control pills or hormones. Women who are on oral contraceptive pills are more likely to develop migraine headaches as a side effect.


Symptoms of Migraine

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Visual hallucinations such as zigzag lines and flashing lights
  • Tiredness, irritability and confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Diarrhea and increased urination


Treating Migraine

Medication to treat migraines can range from ergots like ergotamine or triptans like sumatriptan and rizatriptan. Sometimes isometheptenes are also prescribed. Ergotamines narrow the blood vessels to reduce the throbbing pain. Triptans perform the dual function of narrowing the blood vessels as well as balancing the chemicals in the brain. Eat a healthy diet and keep your weight under check. Obese people are more likely to suffer migraine headaches. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can bring on severe migraines.


Some anti migraine drugs work by constricting blood vessels in the brain. These drugs should not be take by patients with coronary heart disease or circulatory problems. Sometimes migraine attacks may not respond to the treatment. If the headache lasts longer than 3 days it could be a condition called as Status Migrainosus which may call for a different level of treatment involving hospitalization as the patient might suffer dehydration owing to nausea and vomiting.


Alternative Treatment For Migraine: Some herbal remedies have been reported to be effective against migraine in some cases. Feverfew - Tanacetum Parthenium, a herb reduces the intensity of a migraine attack as well as its frequency. However it may not alleviate the pain once it occurs. Petadolex - a preparation made from Butterbur root - Petasites Hybridus is another herbal remedy to control migraine.


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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: September 23, 2019