Migraines vs Headaches: What to Know About the Differences

We’ve all had that throbbing temple pain at one point or another. Headaches are common, and while they can be quite annoying, they’re easy enough to deal with. A bit of rest, some medication, and lots of fluids generally do the trick. Migraines on the other hand are far more serious and can be mentally and physically debilitating. Despite the fact that over 36 million people in the United States suffer from the condition, migraines can often be dismissed as “just another headache.” It’s an easy assumption to make based on how often our heads ache. The biggest difference between the two is that migraines can have a seriously negative effect on a person’s life, and patients should seek treatment as soon as they notice symptoms. It is also worth noting that while women are the most susceptible to the condition, men and children alike can suffer from migraines. When noting the differences between migraines vs headaches, you’ll come up with the following: every migraine is a headache, but not every headache is a migraine!

H1 Title: Migraine vs. Headache: How to Identify the Difference

A headache can be any unpleasant pain and/or pressure in your head. It’s quite literally whenever your head aches. While there are many possible causes, no ordinary headache should be bad enough to interrupt your everyday routine significantly. Whether mild or severe, they tend to appear on both sides of the head, forehead, temples, or back of the neck. Tension headaches are the most common and are typically caused by stress, anxiety, and strain. There are several other types, however, including cluster, post-traumatic, and sinus headaches – the last of which is typically associated with the flu or allergies. These are only a few examples of a long list. Perhaps it is because of the wide range of causes that people aren’t more familiar with one of the most serious kinds of headaches – migraines.

What Makes a Migraine Different?

When comparing migraines vs headaches, migraines are usually far more intense. They tend to occur in only one area, and too often bring uncomfortable side effects with them. If the pain is mainly isolated to one side of your head, and/or if you feel nauseous, dizzy, or are experiencing impaired vision, you’re likely experiencing a migraine. Some people will encounter something called an aura. An aura might occur before or during a migraine episode and is usually visual in nature. Patients have claimed vision loss, flashes of light or bright spots, and even physical sensations like “pins and needles.” Many who suffer from migraines have done so for most of their lives, as many migraines begin during adolescence. However, not all cases begin in early adulthood, and almost no case should go untreated. For some, the condition can be disabling – ranging from simply taking a sick day (or three) – to being unable to perform previously simple tasks.


The Three Stages of Migraine Headaches

Migraines can seem to appear suddenly, but they do give tell-tale warning signs before ruining your day. The first stage is called the prodrome phase and can begin several hours before you feel any actual pain. During this time, patients may experience side effects such as fatigue, depression, lack of concentration, and muscle stiffness (especially in the neck). Then comes the actual migraine – the headache phase – where all previously mentioned symptoms can occur. Lastly, there is the postdrome phase, which can be considered the hangover of migraines. This last stage in the process can be unpredictable, with pain ranging from as terrible as the migraine itself, to mild and nearly unnoticeable.

What Triggers a Migraine Episode?

Several factors can trigger the onset of a migraine. Each person is different, so reasons can vary. Below is a list of possible causes. Check to see if any of these have ever given you a headache:

  • Stress
  • Changes to, or irregular sleep schedule
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Sudden weather changes
  • Diet
  • Dehydration
  • Light
  • Odor/aroma
  • An overdose of medication


Where Do Migraines Come From?

While not classified as a disease, migraines are a hereditary neurological condition. One parent with migraines can give their children a 50% chance to suffer from them as well. Two parents with the condition can increase that chance to as much as 75%. However, it may not all be due to genes. Some cases have notedly begun after serious head injuries or severe trauma, even in those who did not have a family history of the condition. Symptoms can begin at any age – usually starting during adolescence and peaking sometime in your thirties. In 2018, the CDC reported that migraines become progressively less frequent and less severe with each decade that a person ages.


Who Should I Talk to if I Get Migraines?

If this is your first time experiencing a migraine, start by speaking with your doctor. They will ask you questions about your lifestyle and family history to properly diagnose the cause of your episodes. In troubleshooting your migraines, your doctor may advise further tests such as CT or MRI scans, EEGs, ECGs, blood tests, and/or spinal fluid tests.


When Should I See a Neurologist About Migraines?

Migraines can be considered chronic when they occur between eight and fifteen times within one month, for more than three months. This is not the only time you should see your neurologist about headaches or migraines, however. If you’ve noticed your pain increases or occurs more than twice a week, for example, it’s time to give them a call. The following are all good reasons to speak with a neurologist:

  • Headaches begin after a head injury
  • Headaches begin hindering your daily routine
  • Headaches become accompanied by nausea, dizziness, fainting, or confusion
  • You feel weakness in your limbs, experience slurred speech, or blurred vision
  • You are over 50 and are having new and more chronic headaches
  • Headaches get worse with time, even with over-the-counter treatment
  • You have a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS and are experiencing new headaches


Where Can I Find a Neurologist?

The team at Palm Beach Neurological Center, led by Dr. Michael Tuchman, offers expert and compassionate care to patients with a variety of neurological illnesses, including migraines. For over 30 years, Palm Beach Neurological Center has been at the forefront of the diagnosis, treatment, and research of neurological disorders and diseases. Reach us at (561) 694-1010.



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