Migraine vs. Headache: Take the Pain Out of Guessing

 In Primary Care, Primary Health Care


If you are someone who has suffered a migraine-a true migraine-then you know there is a difference between that and a regular headache. However, not many people realize that. What determines a migraine from a headache?

A migraine is actually a neurological disease, according to the American Migraine Foundation. There are a number of different subtypes of migraine, as well, but they are typically divided into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An “aura” refers to the sensation a person experiences before they get a migraine, which may include feeling less mentally alert, seeing flashing lights, feeling tingling or numbness in face or hands and having an unusual sense of smell, taste or touch.

Migraine symptoms include the following:

  • Intense pulsing or throbbing
  • Sensations are mainly felt on one side of the head
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Flashing lights or blind spots

Migraine headaches can be moderate to severe and sometimes require a trip to the emergency room. They are treated with anti-nausea and preventive medications. Some triggers of migraine headaches are:

  • Emotional anxiety
  • Contraceptives
  • Alcohol
  • Hormonal changes
  • Menopause



A headache causes mild, dull pressure throughout the forehead or scalp. Headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen. Because the most common type of headache is the tension headache, there are some relaxation techniques to help relieve the pain and reduce risk for future headaches. They include:

  • Apply warm compresses or taking a warm shower
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Stretching the neck
  • Relaxation exercises

Distinguishing migraine from other types of headaches can be risky. Always consult a physician regarding recurring headaches and pay attention to your symptoms before they occur so your doctor can help find the right treatment.

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