Tension Headache: Care Instructions

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Most headaches are tension headaches. Some people get them often, especially if they have a lot of stress in their lives.

This kind of headache may cause pain or a feeling of pressure all over your head. Sometimes it's hard to know where the center of the pain is.

If you get a lot of these kind of headaches, it can help to talk to your doctor. You can work together to find the treatment that works best for you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Rest in a quiet, dark room. Put a cool cloth on your forehead. Close your eyes, and try to relax or go to sleep. Do not watch TV, read, or use the computer.
  • Use a warm, moist towel or a heating pad set on low on your shoulder and neck muscles.
  • Have someone gently massage your neck and shoulders.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor about how often to take medicine to treat your headache. If you take it too often, it can lead to more headaches.
  • If you get a headache, stop what you are doing and sit quietly for a moment. Close your eyes and breathe slowly.
  • Pay attention to any new symptoms you have when you have a headache. These include a fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, or confusion. They may be signs of a more serious problem.

How can you prevent tension headaches?

Here are some things you can try to help prevent tension headaches.

  • Keep a headache diary. This can help you and your doctor figure out what is triggering your headaches. If you can avoid your triggers, you may be able to prevent headaches.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Headaches are most common during or right after stressful times.
  • Get plenty of exercise every day. This can help with stress and muscle tension.
  • Get regular sleep.
  • Eat healthy foods. Try to eat regularly. If you wait too long to eat, it can trigger a headache.
  • Try to use good posture and keep the muscles of your jaw, face, neck, and shoulders relaxed.
  • If you use a computer a lot, give your eyes a break by blinking more and sometimes looking away from the screen. Use glasses or contacts if you need them. And check that your monitor is about an arm's distance away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have signs of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever and a stiff neck.
  • Your headache gets much worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your headaches get worse, happen more often, or change in some way.
  • You have new symptoms.
  • Your life is disrupted by your headaches. For example, you often miss work, school, or other activities.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.