Headaches – The Tension Type Headache (TTH)
Part 2 of a 4 Part Series by Maryland Pain and Wellness
Headaches are not always a sign of an underlying disease; a Tension Type Headache (TTH) is an example of this phenomenon. It does not mean that the TTH can be ignored if they occur on a regular basis or are effectively treated with OTC pain medications, relaxation, or rest. Every headache is not an emergency or cause for alarm. That is why it is extremely important to be in tune with your body and know when a headache is “normal” and when it is “unusual”.
The Mayo Clinic defines a tension type headache as, “A tension-type headache (TTH) is generally a mild to moderate pain that's often described as feeling like a tight band around the head. A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache, yet its causes aren't well understood. Treatments for tension-type headaches are available. “
In concurring with The Mayo Clinic definition, the American Migraine Foundation adds that the “Tension-type headache is broken down into three types:
- Infrequent episodic type tension-type headache: one or fewer episodes per month.
- Frequent episodic type tension-type headache: more than one, but fewer than 15 episodes per month for three or more months.
- Chronic tension-type headache: more than 15 episodes per month for three or more months. There may be mild nausea with this type of tension-type headache.”
The Prevalence of the TTH
Although considered a common malady in everyday life, it is still important that everyone can distinguish the “common” headache from one signaling an underlying disease or emergency. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Researchers estimate that as many as 2 in 3 adults in the U.S. get tension headaches. Chronic tension headaches are much less common. They affect an estimated 3% of adults. Women get tension headaches more often than men.” The prevalence of this type of headache does not mean that it should be ignored when they are occurring often.
As with the other two prevalent headache types, the migraine and the cluster headache, ongoing research is trying to pinpoint cause and effect and find therapeutic solutions to live pain free. Those suffering occasional TTH should look at their environments and how it may be influencing the onset of a TTH.
The triggers can include:
- Too much time staring at or working on digital screens
- STRESS from any number of sources including work, family, hectic schedules, commuting nightmares and everyday life in the 21st century.
- Prescription medicine side effects
- Ear, teeth, gum, sinus, and neck problems can all trigger TTH and a visit to a physician is called for to rule out any other diseases or underlying conditions.
Common treatments for the occasional TTH that does not interrupt life on a daily basis or return every few hours or days include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Rest, meditation, and relaxation are non-medicinal treatments that are effective.
Professional Evaluation and Treatment
TTH are a minor inconvenience for most people who are only occasionally bothered by them. Warning signs are when they increase in intensity, frequency, and pain. After visiting a PCP or other physician specialist to verify that there are no underlying diseases, the next step should be a consultation with a Pain Management Specialist.
Although this extra step is not necessary for most people, for those where TTH pain is too much, too frequent, and too long a Pain Management Physician can design a treatment plan to effectively quell the pain of TTH.