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How To Tell A Migraine Apart From A Headache

    Often, when you feel pain or pressure in your head, you could find difficulty telling a simple headache or migraine. You need to know how traditional and migraines differ. You will be able to self-diagnose when you have either of them and get treatments quicker. It could also potentially prevent further headaches from happening. Firstly, you would need to know what implies headaches or migraines.

    So what would you call a traditional headache? Headaches are typically uncomfortable pains in your head that generally cause aching and pressure. The level of pain caused by headaches could range between mild to severe, and they commonly occur on both sides of the head. The places where you would most likely experience headaches are the temples and the back of the neck, and forehead. The duration for which you could experience a headache is from half an hour to even a week. Most commonly, people experience what is called a tension headache.

    Coming to migraines can be loosely defined as more severe or intense headaches. They generally tend to have other symptoms, too, besides a headache. Such symptoms include nausea, pain behind either eye or ear, sensitivity to light, pain in your temples, etc. This article will determine the differences between headaches and migraines regarding their types, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.

    Headaches Vs. Migraine 


    Suppose you are talking about the most common health issues that doctors or other health professionals treat. In that case, you can’t go without saying headaches. Though people use the terms mild or severe while describing headaches, they are actually of different types.

    Types Of Headaches

    Tension-Type Headaches

    Tension headaches, also known as tension-type headaches, are the most common headaches people experience. Generally, people experience these headaches at least once in their lives.

    Cluster Headaches

    Cluster headaches are so-called as they come in bouts or circles. These headaches cause severe pain and come in clusters. You would most likely experience attacks of severe headaches and periods of no headaches in between them.

    Sinus Headaches

    Sinus headaches seem similar to migraines, but they generally occur along with infections such as a stuffy nose, fevers, coughs, and other sinus-related ailments.

    Thunderclap Headaches

    These headaches are extremely severe and develop in less than a minute. It could potentially be a symptom of a painful medical condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It may also denote a stroke or aneurysm. You must contact an ambulance immediately if you experience such a headache.

    Types Of Migraines

    Migraine headaches generally differ from any of the above types of headaches. Due to the marked differences, doctors can quickly figure out if you have headaches or migraines. There are several different types of migraines too. The most common types are the ones with an aura or

    without. An aura can be defined as a neurological symptom like numbness, vision changes, or tingling experienced before the headache starts.

    Migraine With Aura

    Studies show that around one in three individuals who have headaches experience an aura before the headache starts. These people may or may not experience auras every single time.

    Migraine Without Aura

    These migraines cause throbbing and severe headaches on either side of the head. These could last between 4 hours to 3 days. People may have trouble thinking properly, slurred speech, or difficulty comprehending speech when they suffer from migraines.

    Hemiplegic Migraine

    This particular migraine is infrequent. Temporary paralysis occurs during or before the headache begins. Other symptoms a person experiences are vision problems, vertigo or dizziness, and a stabbing sensation in the head.


    People who suffer from migraines or other headache disorders may have noticed that certain things trigger their headaches. Triggers vary for each person, and they could include environmental changes or even certain foods. The general triggers include:

    • Anxiety
    • Stress
    • Insomnia
    • Alcohol consumption
    • Hunger
    • Hormonal changes

    Unless you know the triggers, you won’t gauge the symptoms and diagnose if you are having headaches or migraines. Headaches and migraines have specific differences, as mentioned before. The only similarity between headaches and migraines is that both of these cause pain in your head. Headaches would come on either gradually or suddenly. But migraines are different as they do show some symptoms before the onset of the headache itself.

    Symptoms For Migraines

    Here are the symptoms that you would experience when dealing with a migraine:

    • Any physical exertions worsen the pain of the headache
    • Vomiting or nausea
    • Sensitivity to light smells, or even sounds

    Symptoms For Common Headaches

    Tension-type headaches show symptoms such as tenderness in the muscles of your neck, head, and shoulders. If you are experiencing headaches, you won’t have pain while doing any physical activity. You also won’t find these headaches associated with sensitivities to lights, smells, or sounds.

    Diagnosis For Both Migraines And Headaches

    Though there are no actual tests that one can do for migraines specifically, a doctor might prescribe you to do some tests. These tests will show if you have any other underlying conditions that may be triggering the headaches. Such tests could include blood tests or brain imaging such as MRIs or CAT Scans. If you have intense or severe headaches, your doctor might tell you to do a spinal tap, but that is rare.

    Any experienced doctor specializing in treating different headaches would differentiate between various headaches and determine what kind of headache you have. A sinus headache caused by allergic rhinitis or sinus infections often may be confused with the symptoms of migraines.

    A doctor would help you determine whether you are having sinus headaches or migraines. If you wish to self-diagnose before visiting a doctor, you should monitor each of your headaches’ duration. Monitoring would give you essential information that would help you diagnose the type of headaches you are suffering. These are the ways you can monitor your headaches.

    1. Have a diary to keep track of headaches. Whenever you have one, try to identify any triggers that may have led up to the headache. It could be menstrual cycles for women, Hormonal changes or treatments, or alcohol consumption.
    2. You must also keep track of when your headache starts, how severe it is, any symptoms associated with the headache, and the duration for which it lasts. You should also record any medication that you might have taken.
    3. If you find that you don’t see any particular cause for the headaches, you should keep track of the food and drinks you might have consumed a day before the headache. It would also help you identify any possible triggers.

    Treatments And Medication 

    For Headaches

    Since most headaches are induced by stress, you must reduce the stress. Below are some techniques that you can use to relieve the pain from your headaches and mitigate the risk of headaches in the future. 

    • Meditation
    • Relaxation exercises
    • Neck stretching
    • Massage
    • Heat therapy like taking warm showers or applying a warm compress

    Luckily, you can quickly cure tension headaches with over-the-counter medications. Some of these medicines are ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.

    For Migraines

    People who have tolerable migraines and don’t have them often can benefit from the medicines listed below.

    • Pain relievers act on mild to moderate headaches like acetaminophen or NSAIDs like naproxen, sodium, or aspirin.
    • Triptans like almotriptan –Axert, sumatriptan- alsuma , imitrex etc or rizatriptan –maxalt.
    • Anti-nausea medicines like Thorazine, Compazine, or Phenergan.


    Since the symptoms of most people having headaches or migraines vary greatly, you shouldn’t just rely on one source to determine what type of headaches you are having. Migraines and common headaches might occur frequently and even daily. If you suffer from headaches most days of the month, you should seek professional help. 

    Doctors and trained health professionals would help determine what you are suffering from and provide appropriate medication. It would be helpful if you never relied on what other people tell you or the internet when you have any ailment.