Explore the key distinctions between headaches and migraines, including causes, symptoms, and effective treatments. Get clarity on your head pain.

Migraine vs. Headache: How to Tell the Difference

Headache vs. Migraine: Differences and Similarities

Migraines impact over 37 million men, women and children in the United States, but fewer than 5 percent of those affected have been accurately diagnosed and received appropriate care.

Headaches and migraines are two common but distinct types of head pain that many people experience at some point in their lives. While they both involve discomfort in the head, they differ significantly in terms of their causes, symptoms, and treatments. Understanding the difference between headaches and migraines is essential for proper diagnosis and management. In this blog, we'll delve into the characteristics of each to help you distinguish between them.

Also see: Causes & Symptoms of Migraines

What is a Headache?

A headache is a broad term used to describe any discomfort or pain in the head, face, or neck region. They can vary in intensity and duration, and there are several different types of headaches, each with its unique characteristics. Some common types of headaches include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and sinus headaches.

  • Tension Headaches. These are the most common type of headache and are often described as a constant, dull, and aching pain that wraps around the head. Tension headaches can be triggered by stress, muscle tension, or poor posture.
  • Cluster Headaches. Cluster headaches are severe, intense headaches that occur in clusters or patterns. They typically affect one side of the head and are often accompanied by symptoms such as red, watery eyes and nasal congestion.
  • Sinus Headaches. Sinus headaches are associated with sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinus passages. They cause a deep, constant pain in the forehead, cheeks, or bridge of the nose.

Also see: When to go to the ER for a Severe Headache

What is a Migraine?

Migraines, on the other hand, are a type of headache that is characterized by severe, throbbing pain, often accompanied by other symptoms. Migraines are believed to be a neurological condition and are often more debilitating than typical headaches.

Key Characteristics of Migraines:

  • Aura. Some people with migraines experience an aura before the headache begins. Auras are usually visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines, but they can also involve other sensory changes.
  • Unilateral Pain. Migraine pain is often felt on one side of the head, though it can switch sides or be bilateral in some cases.
  • Nausea and Vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms associated with migraines, and they can worsen the overall discomfort.
  • Sensitivity to Light and Sound. Migraine sufferers are often sensitive to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia), making it challenging to be in bright or noisy environments during an attack.
  • Duration. Migraines tend to last longer than typical headaches, ranging from a few hours to several days.

Also see: Everything You Need to Know About Migraines

Distinguishing Between the Two.

  • Pain Type. The type of pain can be a significant distinguishing factor. While tension headaches often feel like a constant, dull ache, migraines are characterized by throbbing, pulsating pain.
  • Associated Symptoms. Pay attention to any accompanying symptoms. If you experience visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, or extreme sensitivity to light and sound, it is more likely a migraine.
  • Location. The location of the pain can also provide clues. Migraine pain is often one-sided, while tension headaches are more likely to affect both sides or wrap around the head.
  • Triggers. Identifying triggers can be helpful. Stress, fatigue, certain foods, and hormonal changes are known to trigger migraines, while tension headaches are often related to stress and muscle tension.

Treatment for Migraines and Headaches.

The treatment and management of headaches and migraines differ due to their distinct causes and symptoms.

Headache Treatment

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen) can help alleviate tension and sinus headaches.
  • Identifying and addressing the underlying cause, such as stress or poor posture, can prevent future tension headaches.

Migraine Treatment

  • Migraine-specific medications, such as triptans, may be prescribed to abort an ongoing migraine attack.
  • Preventive medications can be prescribed for those who experience frequent or severe migraines.
  • Lifestyle modifications, including managing triggers, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and stress reduction techniques, can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

Remember, this blog provides general information and should not replace professional medical advice. While headaches and migraines both involve head pain, they are distinct in terms of their causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Understanding the differences between the two can help individuals seek appropriate medical care and manage their condition effectively.

If you frequently experience severe headaches or migraines, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance on managing your symptoms, always seek help and call or visit Closest Emergency Room for medical help. We have board-certified physicians, nurses and staff to help you recover and give appropriate treatment and medical advice.

We have ER locations across the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area that are open and here to help you 24/7 If you or your family have a medical emergency.

We have 9 facilities spread across the DFW area with average wait times of less than 10 mins that are OPEN 24/7 located in Hurst, Colleyville, Frisco, Highland Village, Hillcrest, Uptown, Little Elm, Mansfield, and Texoma.