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What’s the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine?

Almost half of the adult population has experienced a headache in the previous year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If your head’s been killing you and you feel the intense pressure in this area, it may be hard to differentiate whether you are struggling with a headache or migraine.

Knowing the difference between the two is essential, as it can help you reach for the right treatments that will relieve the symptoms faster. Read on to learn how to distinguish a regular headache from a migraine.

What Is a Headache?

Headache refers to unpleasant sensations of pain, pressure, or discomfort in your head. It usually occurs on the temples, forehead, or the back of your head, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. 

Headaches usually occur on both sides of the head and can last anywhere from half an hour to days. Here are the most common types of headaches:

  • Tension headache – This is the most common type, and it usually flares occasionally. You feel the pain around the forehead, behind the eyes, in your neck, or other parts of the head. Tension headaches are caused mainly by stress, anxiety, or muscle strains.
  • Sinus headache – It is felt in the sinuses and often accompanied by infection symptoms like fever, congestion, stuffy nose, cough, or sensations of pressure. That’s why this type of headache is sometimes confused with a migraine.
  • Cluster headache – These intense headaches are often felt on one side of the head, and they come in a series of painful sensations, which is how they got the name. After the cluster of headache attacks passes, it is followed by a pain-free period.

There are other types of headaches, but these three are the most common ones.

What Is a Migraine?

Migraines cause a wider range of symptoms than headaches, and they can last anywhere from several hours to days. The most common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to outside stimuli
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent yawning
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Neck stiffness
  • Blurred vision
  • Brain fog
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle weakness

The symptoms are usually intense, but scientists still debate about the exact causes of migraines. We know that they can be triggered by stress, anxiety, sleep changes, menopause, flashing lights, painkiller abuse, alcohol, and some foods. However, the exact mechanism behind it is still unknown.

Based on the symptoms and phases you go through, researchers distinguish between several types of migraines, including:

  • Migraine with aura
  • Migraine without aura
  • Migraine with brainstem aura
  • Hemiplegic migraine
  • Silent migraine

Similarities and Differences

Headaches and migraines share throbbing and pulsating pain felt in the head, the duration of symptoms, and common triggers. However, they also have differences like accompanying symptoms and pain location.

Migraines usually start with pain on one side and then slowly move to the other side of the head. They are also associated with nausea, light sensitivity, and other mentioned symptoms that don’t occur with regular headaches.

When to See a Doctor?

You should visit a doctor if the intensity of your pain suddenly increases or you experience nausea, vomiting, vision problems, slurred speech, brain fog, and motor issues. 

Space City Pain Specialists focus on treating all kinds of pain, including migraines and headaches. Feel free to contact us, and we’ll gladly help you get rid of your pain to live a healthy and happy life.

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