The Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine

Headache pain might be a common thing, but it is certainly not something that should be taken lightly. A small pain can lead to severe headaches.

Here we take a look into how to differentiate between a regular headache and a migraine and answer the question what’s the difference between a headache and a migraine.

Firstly, we look into the types of headache pain. Yes, you heard that right; there is more than one type of headache out there.

What’s The Difference Between a Headache and A Migraine: An Amazing 101 Guide

Headache And Its Types

Before answering the question that what’s the difference between a headache and a migraine, we must first be aware of its different kinds and how they take place.

What Is A Headache

As per definition, a headache is a pain in the head of a person, also known as head pain which can include pain in the face and neck pain.

There are many pain-sensitive structured presents in the human head. These include the skin bone structures found in the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

Certain large blood vessels present are also pain-sensitive, leading to severe headaches. A severe headache is generally caused by other parts such as the jaw rather than the brain itself.

Different types of headaches can have various headache symptoms and can affect other places. Thus, knowing which type a person is suffering from is essential when consulting a headache specialist.

What's the difference between a headache and a migraine
A picture by; Andy/ Flickr

1) Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches are the most common type of headache, and they occur more often than not in a large number of people all over the world.

Tension Headaches affect both children and adults and cause mild to moderate pain. A tension headache is a common headache that generally has no other symptom.

Tension-type headaches occur only for a few hours and then eventually die out independently. Tension headaches are of two types:

1a) Episodic Tension Headaches

Tension-type headaches are called Episodic headaches when they happen for fewer than 15 days in a month. They usually last for about half an hour and maybe even a few days.

Episodic Tension headaches generally tend to start slowly in the middle of the day. These are also known as the headache phase though a patient would always wish for something known as the headache-free periods.

1b) Chronic Tension Headaches

Chronic Tension headache is one that happens for more than 15 days a month. In contrast to Episodic tension headaches, chronic ones come and go as they please. This is of the exact nature of chronic migraine.

Here, the level of pain might even increase to a high level causing pulsing pain. People often call this type of headache the closest to a proper migraine.

2) Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are those which occur for short periods but are relatively higher in intensity as compared to the ones mentioned earlier and cause intense pain.

A cluster headache is likely to come to a person at the same time every year, for example, during fall or spring. This is hence often confused by many people as some kind of an allergy because of its recurring nature.

Cluster headaches occur in and around the eye area and are very severe and can even be more discomforting and painful than mild migraines. But, they generally do not last long.

These recurring headaches are not that common and hence having knowledge and knowing the difference helps a person in many ways to answer the question, What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine.

 Migraine Headaches

A Migraine headache is a powerful headache that usually lasts for a few days more often than not for a person and is very painful and disturbing.

A migraine attack is accompanied by vomiting sensitivity, nausea, and sensitivity to light. Headache and Migraine symptoms are different from individual to individual and can take up many stages, which are:

i) The Prodrome Phase

This phase comes to a person a few days before the migraine attacks hit. Over 60% of migraine sufferers experience these noticeable symptoms, which include sensory disturbances, fatigue, bloating, and many more.

ii) Aura

This set of symptoms starts from your nervous system, and a person’s vision is primarily affected. These generally last for about an hour for the average individual.

A person might see small black dots in his or her vision during this; blurred vision is also prevalent, ringing in the ears.

Other symptoms also include speech difficulties sensitivity to light sound. Migraine patients have to go through these symptoms very often and quite frequently.

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?, Well. If you are suffering from a migraine, it would be automatically clear to you as headaches and migraines are two completely different things, so they feel different.

 Migraine Attack

Migraine headache attacks typically start as slight dull headaches, and then the intensity keeps on increasing and gets even worse with physical activity.

Migraine triggers immense pain within a person, and some people even faint or feel exceptionally dizzy.

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine? One could be that a migraine condition can be genetic, and it could have been passed on from one migraine patient to another.

Other Migraine Symptoms

Some other symptoms of migraine headaches include constipation, abdominal pain, and various other health conditions as well.

Temporary paralysis is also one symptom of a higher level of migraine headache. They can occur any time of the day.

A picture by: Pain Pix/ Flickr

Causes Of Migraine Headaches

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine? In simple words, it can be said that it is the intensity of the pain.

Currently, scientists say that migraines are caused when a particular overreactive cell in our body sends out signals which trigger our trigeminal nerve, which in turn leads to a painful sensation in our head. This is directly related to the nervous system.

Hormonal shifts also take place when this happens, and our body releases chemicals like serotonin and calcitonin gene-related peptides; this makes the blood vessels swell, which causes inflation hence pain-causing migraines.

Migraine Triggers

A lot of things can trigger a migraine attack in a person. One must be aware of these to protect themselves from such painful experiences best and hence answer, What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine more efficiently.

The things which are a part of this list act as catalysts that enhance the pain for a person even more and sometimes even make it unbearable.

1) Food Intake

Trigger foods are those which trigger a migraine for a person. These include aged cheese, alcohol, and food additives. A migraine episode can be expected after consuming these.

Hence keeping a check on what one consumes is also an essential aspect of maintaining health and staying away from migraines and related issues.

2) Head Injuries

A person who has a history of head injuries or damages is more likely to experience migraine more often than someone who does not fall under this category. This is true even for people with a prior medical condition.

Head injuries are considered one of the most severe kinds of injuries; thus, it is advised to take good care while undergoing physical activities.

Common Migraine Disorders

There are several headache disorders present out there. What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine? This section is best for you. These are usually primary headache disorders, and some of them are as follows:

1) Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are a widespread primary headache disorder, and it is usually caused by something known as acute sinusitis.

This is caused due to the swelling of the sinusitis as pressure increases inside the sinus cavity and hence causes a lot of pain. There are many prescription medications available for this problem.

Sinus 1headaches are more common in younger children as compared to adults. When we often find a child complaining of a headache, it is most likely to be a sinus headache.

2) Medication Overuse Headache

These are also known as rebound headaches and generally occur due to long-term use of headache medication. Even though they provide temporary relief, these medications can cause problems in the long run.

A best-seen way to treat headaches of such kinds is by exercising regularly, making dietary plans and medication, and making lifestyle changes.

3) Vagus Nerve Stimulation

This headache is one whereas the name suggests, the vagus nerve in the body is stimulated, and this causes immense pain to the individual.

This can lead to both chronic migraines as well as chronic cluster headaches.

We have now seen many cases that help us identify the differences between a common headache and a migraine and answer the prolonging question of What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine2.

A person who suffers from migraines now and then is undoubtedly someone who has to go through a lot of pain frequently, and one might even feel that there is no way out of this.

There are various migraine treatments globally, and many doctors have suggested multiple methods to get some relief. But, this is not the case. The mental health of the patient also plays an important role.

The main aim of migraine treatments is to relieve pain and prevent future attacks.

  • Pain Relieving Medications

Abortive medications are these pain-relieving medicines taken when a person suffers from a migraine attack. These medicines aim to stop the symptoms of migraine and lessen the pain.

  • OTC Treatments

OTC or over-the-counter treatments are of many types to treat a migraine. These are taken to give relief to an ongoing migraine rather than preventing future ones.

OTC medications3 should only be taken with proper prescription medication by a doctor. These are generally found in capsule form in various drug stores.

A Botulinum toxin injection is also an effective way to treat migraine headaches and their related issues.

  • Preventive Medications

Preventive medications are taken to prevent future migraine attacks for a person.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have proved to be a good measure for the same. Certain blood pressure medicines that help control the blood pressure levels of the patient are also helpful.

Scientists suggest that preventive medicines are of greater importance as taking these along with the pain-relieving ones can ensure a migraine-free life for a patient up to a great extent.

Migraine Research Foundation

The Migraine Research Foundation has its headquarters in New York and aims to make the world a better place for people suffering from headaches.

They do so by continuously studying this topic and have always tried to come up with new treatment methods for various headache disorders, which many people suffer from.

They have also played a significant role in efficiently answering the question, What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine. They have suggested many menu migraines for people suffering from this. These include dilatory 4plans for them.

Headaches are something that many people in this world suffer from, and as mentioned earlier in the article, they should not always be taken without seriousness. Though there is nothing to be afraid of, it is always better to be prepared and aware of things.

We must always try to assist people around us who suffer from frequent headaches and try to comfort them. Maintaining a migraine or headache journal could be advised to them, which would help them track the frequency.

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine? Hopefully, now you can answer this question in a better manner and are more aware of the things related to this issue that affects so many people around us.

The difference between a migraine and headaches

  1. Ashina, Messoud, et al. “Migraine: epidemiology and systems of care.” The Lancet 397.10283 (2021): 1485-1495. ↩︎
  2. Ashina, Messoud, et al. “Migraine: epidemiology and systems of care.” The Lancet 397.10283 (2021): 1485-1495. ↩︎
  3. Orayj, Khalid, et al. “The use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications by university students during examinations in Saudi Arabia: a cross-sectional study.” Risk Management and Healthcare Policy (2021): 2675-2682. ↩︎
  4. O’Brien, Myles W., et al. “Popliteal flow-mediated dilatory responses to an acute bout of prolonged sitting between earlier and later phases of natural menstrual and oral contraceptive pill cycles.” Journal of Applied Physiology 129.4 (2020): 637-645. ↩︎

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Agrim Srivastava

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