Sensitive to light, sound, and smells. Nauseous. Debilitating pain. Wanting to shut out the world. Does this sound like you when you are suffering from a migraine? If so, you’re not alone. Some 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraines.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are a disease, especially if they are chronic. In fact, migraines are the third most prevalent and sixth most debilitating disease in the world. However, people often mistake them for a generic headache.
What’s the Difference between a Migraine and a Headache?
When there is pain in your head due to pressure, it can be difficult to tell if you are suffering from a migraine or just an ordinary headache, but the two are very different.
It’s important to recognize a migraine from a traditional headache. Doing so can mean faster relief through better treatments and preventing future headaches from occurring in the first place. So, how can you tell the difference between a migraine and a common headache?
A migraine is more than just a headache. Migraines are characterized by moderate to severe pain (often described as pounding, throbbing pain), usually on one side of the head, and are often associated with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise, and certain odors.
In other words, a migraine is a debilitating condition, often made worse by physical activity. Attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours. Most people who suffer from migraines are symptom-free between attacks.
Migraine headaches may be preceded by an “aura,” which refers to certain sensations a person experiences before a migraine occurs. These sensations typically occur anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes before the attack and may include vision changes such as blurred or distorted vision, blind spots, or flickering lights, spots, or lines. Other aura symptoms may include tingling, numbness, or a pins-and-needles feeling in the face, hands, arms or legs; dizziness; or changes in mental acuity.
Common migraine triggers include stress, certain foods and drinks, poor sleeping habits, caffeine (too much or withdrawal from), hormones, changes in the weather, and certain medications.
The average headache can cause pressure and a dull, aching pain, usually on both sides of your head.
There are multiple types of headaches, with tension headaches being the most common. They typically cause mild to moderate pain. Specific areas where headaches can occur include the forehead, temples, and back of the neck. A tension headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. Triggers for this type of headache include stress, muscle strain, or anxiety.
It is important to identify the type of headache you have so you can get the right treatment and advice. Both migraines and tension headaches are types of primary headaches, which means that they are not caused by an underlying medical condition. While it’s not known what causes migraines, 70-80% of people who get them have a family history of the disorder.
The main difference between migraines and headaches is that migraines are often associated with other symptoms and are much more severe and chronic than tension headaches. It’s important to educate yourself on the difference between the two. Unfortunately, migraines are poorly understood, frequently undiagnosed, and undertreated.
If you get frequent migraines, it is important to see your physician to receive a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will take a medical history, possibly refer you for tests, and narrow down the range of possible causes for your headaches.
The correct diagnosis will help you manage your pain and symptoms. Both tension headaches and migraines can be treated with over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, while migraines may also be treated with prescription pain-relieving medications. Identifying and avoiding the triggers that cause your migraines can help prevent future occurrences.