Migraine Triggers: Tension-Type Headaches

Do you ever have a headache that “turns into a Migraine?” If so, it may be a tension-type headache. Tension-type headaches can be a Migraine trigger for some people.

Tension-type headaches (TTH) commonly last from 30 minutes to seven days. The pain of TTH is often described as “vise-like” or “a band around the head.”

A TTH has at least two of these four characteristics:

  • mild to moderate in intensity
  • occurs on both sides of the head (bilateral)
  • is not made worse by routine activity such as bending over or climbing stairs
  • the pain has a pressing or tightening quality, not throbbing or pulsing

For many, stopping a TTH early can keep it from triggering a Migraine attack. Acute treatment options for TTH include:

  • aspirin (for adults)
  • acetaminophen
  • ibuprofen
  • aspirin/acetaminophen/caffeine combinations
  • muscle relaxants
  • combination prescription medications with codeine, hydrocodone, butalbital, caffeine, etc.
  • massage therapy
  • biofeedback
  • acupuncture
  • relaxation exercises
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) (should never be applied to the face or head)

Migraine abortive medications do not relieve TTH.

My personal experience is that tension-type headaches most often do trigger a Migraine for me unless I stop them quickly. I frequently feel them first in the bottom of the back of my head. Ibuprofen usually works for them, but because of other medications I take, I shouldn’t take ibuprofen. I have found that a TENS unit applied to my shoulders and lower neck is as effective as medication for stopping a TTH if I use it early in the headache.

If you have headaches that “turn into Migraines,” it’s worth discussing them with your doctor. It may turn out that they’re tension-type headaches, and you can discuss ways to stop them quickly before they trigger a Migraine.

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