How Are Episodic Tension-Type Headaches Diagnosed?

Feb 10, 2023
How Are Episodic Tension-Type Headaches Diagnosed?
It’s hard to get stuff done when your head hurts. Unfortunately, headaches are so common that most people expect to develop multiple headaches every year. But what kind of headaches are you having, and why does that matter? Our specialist explains. 

Headaches may be an expected component of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to live with. Even episodic tension headaches, the most common type, can make your head hurt 15 out of 30 days every month, making them hard to ignore.

Headache specialist Dr. Wade Steeves at Valley Neurology in Spokane Valley, Washington, uses advanced diagnostics and his considerable medical expertise to diagnose and treat acute and chronic migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.

Check out these facts about episodic tension-type headaches, how they’re diagnosed, and the treatments Dr. Steeves offers to counter their effects on your daily routine.

What’s an episodic tension headache?

Tension headaches are characterized by mild to moderate pain, often described as band-like discomfort that wraps around the head. 

Some people also have pain in the neck and at the back of the head. You may also experience tenderness in the neck, shoulder, or scalp muscles. The headache may last 30 minutes to several days.

Episodic tension headaches occur 15 days a month or less, while chronic tension headaches occur more frequently.

How are tension headaches different from migraines?

It’s possible to have both tension headaches and migraines. However, the symptoms are different. Migraines, for instance, often include visual disturbances, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. 

Also, the pain from a tension headache usually is steady and affects both sides of the head. Migraines are often one-sided, causing throbbing discomfort rather than a constant or persistent ache.

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

Dr. Steeves starts your headache evaluation at Valley Neurology with a physical exam, neurological assessment, and careful discussion of your symptoms.

He may ask questions about the timing and nature of your headache symptoms, including:

  • How frequently the headaches occur
  • How long the headaches last
  • If anything makes the headaches feel better or worse
  • Whether the headaches interfere with sleep

Based on initial evaluation results, Dr. Steeves may request labs or imaging studies, such as an MRI, to rule out an underlying cause of your headaches.

Dr. Steeves also looks for a pattern that might indicate headache triggers. For instance, skipping meals or consuming excess sugar could be part of your tension headache pattern. Stress is one of the most common triggers for tension-type headaches. 

How are episodic tension headaches treated?

Your customized treatment strategy for tension headaches may include a series of therapies designed to relieve stress, such as:

  • Stress management/reduction
  • Relaxation training
  • Massage therapy
  • Routine exercise
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Good sleep hygiene (7-8 hours of restful sleep nightly)

Dr. Steeves may also suggest using over-the-counter pain medications sparingly since overuse can cause “rebound headaches.” Generally, if you use pain medication more than twice a week, we recommend you come in for an evaluation and customized headache treatment plan.

Schedule an evaluation at Valley Neurology today for more information about our services. Call the office or request an appointment online.