​Tension Headache


This is the most common type of headache which many of us have often experienced. It is a mild, diffused form of pain and may feel like constantly affecting both sides of your head. You may also feel a tightening feeling in your neck muscles as well as a feeling of pressure behind the eyes. This type of headache is not severe enough to prevent you from going about your usual activities. The duration is anywhere between half an hour to several hours, and sometimes even a few days.

Most people have experienced a tension headache at some point in their lives. Tension headaches can develop at any age, but are more frequently seen in teenagers and adults. Women are more likely to experience tension headaches than men. The cause of tension headache is not known. Some experts believe that people who suffer from tension headaches have a heightened sensitivity to pain as well as stress. 

Tension headaches are divided into two main categories:

  • Episodic tension headaches: These can last from half an hour up to a week. However, if they occur for fewer than 15 days in a month for at least three months, they are classified as episodic.

  • Chronic tension headaches: These can last from a few hours and continue indefinitely. If your headaches occur for more than fifteen days in a month for at least three months, they're classified as chronic.

Signs and symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • Dull, aching pain in the front, top or sides of the head

  • Sensation of tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head

  • Tenderness on your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles

  • Irritability

If you are experiencing frequent headaches that last many hours, and they occur several times a week, it is recommended that you see your doctor, especially if the pattern of headaches suddenly changes. You can consult a doctor for medical advice from the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

In simple cases of tension headaches, your doctor can easily diagnose it and prescribe the right treatment. However, if you have chronic or recurrent headaches, your doctor may conduct physical and neurological exams to try to determine the cause. Your doctor will ask you detailed questions about the characteristics, intensity and location of the pain you may be experiencing. If he/she feels that the diagnosis needs further probing, they may also recommend other tests, including:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan: this is a type of brain scan which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of your body. It can be used to detect possible causes of the condition. An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You will have to lie inside the tube during the scan and it will produce a picture of your brain.

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) scan: this is an imaging method that creates a two-dimensional image of the brain using X-ray technology.

Your doctor may recommend methods to treat tension headaches. These may include:

  • Prescription or OTC (Over-the-counter) pain relievers. Many people choose to treat tension headache with simple OTC pain medication but overuse of that can cause even more headaches.

  • Combination of aspirin with a sedative

  • Preventative medications such as anti-depressants and muscle relaxants. However, these may take a few weeks to start affecting the symptoms and side effects may include weight gain, drowsiness and dry mouth.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage



​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.