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Can Tension Headaches Turn Into Migraines?

Last updated on January 6th, 2023 at 12:08 pm


Tension-type headaches (TTH) are the most common type of headaches, according to the World Health Organization. However, it’s very difficult to differentiate between tension headaches and migraine headaches. Chronic migraines can cause tension headaches, but it’s generally not the other way around.

Difference between migraine and tension headache

There are a few key differences between migraine pain and tension headaches. Tension-type headaches don’t have symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or visual disturbances. However, a tight feeling around the side of the head is a common symptom for both types of headaches. Tension headaches are typically much milder than migraine attacks.

Can a tension headache feel like a migraine?

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Yes, a tension headache can feel like a migraine attack. Chronic tension headache is especially similar to migraine pain. Tension headache is a result of constriction of blood vessels around the neck and sides of the head. Migraine headache also affects the same parts. People with tension headaches can be sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, which is also common in migraine headaches.

Can a headache turn into a migraine?

There isn’t much evidence that suggests the possibility of headaches turning into migraines. However, it’s possible in some cases. It is particularly true under a few circumstances. For example, stress can both induce headaches and trigger migraine. A tension headache can aggravate the impact of a migraine attack.

Since general headaches share many symptoms of migraine, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Migration symptoms like visual aura and nausea are absent in tension headaches.

When does a headache become a migraine?

The cause of migraine is still unclear, but we can easily trace the cause of other headache types. Tension-type is the most common type of headache. While tension headache doesn’t automatically become migraine, both conditions can coexist. This condition is called mixed headache syndrome, or coexisting migraine and tension-type headaches.

Chronic tension-type headache can trigger migraine attacks if left untreated for a long time. Some of the most common triggers of tension-type headaches also trigger migraine. While not common, it’s possible for severe headaches to become migraine headaches.

Migraine vs headache quiz

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When you have a headache, you cannot be certain of your headache type right away. There are various types of headaches, like cluster headaches, sinus headaches, rebound headaches, and tension-type headaches. These are the primary headaches that affect most people.

One easy way of differentiating migraine pain from other types of headache pain is to inspect the symptoms. Migraine attacks often begin with what’s known as an aura, where people see flashing lights or random lines and shapes. Migraine is among the most serious medical conditions and millions of people suffer from it.

Another type of headache is called a secondary headache. These are the results of other infections or diseases that cause pain in the head. Ailments that affect the sinuses or nervous system can cause secondary headaches.

Tension headache everyday

Many people suffer from chronic daily headache. This can be a result of many things. For example, it can be due to stress, muscle contractions due to injuries, or due to poor sleep. Medical overuse headache is also common among people since the side effects of certain drugs can induce a headache.

You should never take chronic headaches lightly. Any headache that persists for a long time should be monitored and diagnosed. Many people make the mistake of leaving their everyday headaches untreated, and the pain grows to become severe as a result.

When should you worry about tension headaches?

You should start taking tension headaches seriously when they become consistent and don’t go away on their own. It’s also important to identify the root cause of tension headaches. If it’s due to stress, you should focus more on lifestyle changes than drugs. Acute treatment would be necessary only in a few cases. Visit a headache specialist if your headache persists for a long time or becomes unbearable.

General tension-type headaches do not pose health risks. But if you leave it untreated, it can grow to become a chronic headache. You should visit a doctor if common remedies for tension headaches don’t work for you.

How do I know if my headache is from stress?

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It’s not easy to differentiate between stress-induced headaches and other types of headaches. This is primarily because stress-induced headaches have the same symptoms as other types of headaches.

Migraine headache generally shows several symptoms that can help you distinguish them from other types of headaches. Stress headaches can be due to emotional or physical factors. Stress headaches can be both episodic and chronic. The most common symptom is a dull and continuous headache accompanied by stiffness around the head and neck. Your neck muscles can also become tender due to stress headaches.

Mixed headache symptoms

Mixed headache refers to headaches that are a combination of migration and tension. The symptoms of mixed headaches are identical to the symptoms of tension-type and migraine headaches. The most common symptoms are:

  • Tight feeling around the head and neck
  • Chronic or episodic headache
  • Sensitivity to bright and flashing lights, loud noises, etc.
  • Stress and physical discomfort

Treatment for mixed tension migraine

Mixed tension migraine is treatable with or without drugs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are effective remedies. In case there are underlying issues behind the headache, your doctor may ask for certain blood tests. However, most people experience benefits from over-the-counter medications alone.

Non-medical treatment for mixed tension migraine involves making lifestyle changes. Getting a good night’s sleep is the most important thing to prevent headaches. Managing stress is another critical factor. Pain relievers may not be effective if your lifestyle habits are causing the mixed tension migraine headache. Improve your lifestyle to prevent mixed tension migraine.

How do you get rid of a tension migraine fast?

You can’t magically get rid of tension migraine. Over-the-counter pain relievers are the best option when you want a quick remedy. However, only lifestyle changes can bring lasting improvement.

Practicing relaxation techniques, like breathing techniques, can also help you in dealing with mixed tension migraine. You should also stay away from anything that creates bright lights or loud sounds. Keep yourself in a calm environment to get rid of tension migraine quickly.

Good sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet can prevent mixed tension migraines from developing. Lifestyle changes are often more effective than drugs to deal with chronic headaches.

FAQ relating to tension headaches and migraines

Now, let’s find out the answers to some of the most common questions about tension headaches and migraines.

Can a regular headache turn into a migraine?

There are no clinical trials that record regular headaches turning into migraines. However, both migraine and regular tension-type headaches can exist at the same time. This condition is known as mixed headache, transformed migraine, or chronic headache.

As far as the question of regular headaches turning into migraine goes, there’s no clear evidence suggesting that it’s possible. However, symptoms of regular headaches can trigger migraine attacks in many people.

If you’re unsure about your type of headache, you should consult a doctor and go through a diagnosis. When left untreated, regular headaches can turn severe and give rise to migraine-like pain and discomfort.

Can muscle tension trigger migraines?

If there’s persistent tightness in your muscles, it can trigger a migraine. It’s due to the accumulation of waste that the muscles cannot flush out. Muscle pain can extend into a headache with time, especially when left untreated. However, stiffness-induced headaches are generally not severe. It’s also easier to deal with headaches triggered by muscle tension.

While muscle tightness can easily trigger headaches, it’s rare for muscle tightness to be a direct cause of migraine pain. No clinical study suggests that correlation yet. But if you already have a migraine, muscle stiffness can make it worse. Make sure you don’t let your muscles get stiff, especially if you suffer from migraine attacks. Regular stretching and massages are helpful in alleviating muscle stiffness.

How do you fix tension migraines?

There are two approaches to fixing tension migraines. You can adopt lifestyle changes and practice relaxation techniques to get rid of tension migraines. This approach involves holistic treatment that focuses on both the mind and the body. However, lifestyle changes take time to show results and you can’t expect quick fixes from them.

Another approach is to consult a medical professional and take medications under their supervision. Your doctor will prescribe you medicines depending on the type of headache you have. In most cases, doctors recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin.

Is a tension headache the same as a migraine?

No, tension headaches and migraine headaches are different. But it’s possible for both types of headaches to be present at the same time. If you have mixed tension headaches, you will be diagnosed with both tension-type headaches and migraine attacks. The treatment plan will follow accordingly. There are no studies or clinical trials that suggest that tension headache and migraine are the same.

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