What’s the Difference Between Migraine and Headaches?


When there is pressure or pain in your head, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing a typical headache or migraine.

Differentiating a migraine headache from a traditional headache and vice versa is essential. It can mean faster relief through more targeted treatments based on the type of headache. It can also help prevent future headaches from occurring in the first place.

What is a headache?

Headaches are unpleasant pains in your head that can cause pressure and ache. They usually occur on both sides of your head, and the pain can range from mild to severe. Some specific areas where headaches can include the following:

  • forehead
  • temples
  • back of the neck

A typical headache usually lasts between 30 minutes and a few hours. Some migraine episodes can last for days or even longer.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common headache type is a tension headache. Triggers for this headache type include:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • muscle strain
  • eyestrain
What is a migraine?

Migraine attacks are intense or severe and often have other symptoms besides head pain. Symptoms associated with a migraine headache include:

  • nausea
  • pain behind one eye or ear
  • pain in the temples
  • seeing spots or flashing lights
  • sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • vomiting
  • neck and shoulder pain
  • muscle aches

Compared with tension or other headache types, migraine headache pain can be moderate to severe. Some people may experience headaches so fierce they seek care in an emergency room.

Migraine episodes will typically affect only one side of the head. However, it’s possible to have a migraine headache that affects both sides of the head. Other differences include the pain’s quality: A migraine headache will cause intense pain that may be throbbing and will make performing daily tasks challenging.

Migraine episodes are typically split into two categories: migraine with aura and without aura. An “aura” refers to sensations a person experiences before they get a migraine headache. The sensations typically occur 10 to 30 minutes before a migraine attack. These can include:

  • feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking
  • seeing flashing lights or unusual lines
  • feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands
  • having an uncommon sense of smell, taste, or touch

Some people with migraines may experience symptoms a day or two before the actual migraine episode occurs. Known as the “prodrome” phase, these subtler signs can include:

  • constipation
  • depression
  • frequent yawning
  • irritability
  • food cravings
Identify and treat early.

Headaches can range from being a mild inconvenience to being severe and debilitating. Identifying and treating headaches as early as possible can help a person engage in preventive treatments to minimize the chance of another headache.

Distinguishing migraine from other types of headaches can be tricky. Pay particular attention to the time before the headache starts for signs of an aura, and tell your doctor about any other symptoms.

SOURCED: Healthline (https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/migraine-vs-headache#treatin…)


Information courtesy of Knox Community Hospital