The Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine


Let’s face it. No matter what you do in life, you are going to get a headache from time to time. You can try to avoid them, but we all get sick. There are many different types of headaches. Some of them fall into the migraine category and some do not. Some are self-inflicted, which means we caused them, while others are completely unavoidable. Altogether there are more than one hundred and fifty different types of headaches, we won’t go into all of them today. Today we are going to focus on the difference between a regular headache and a full-blown migraine.

The two types and how they are identified:

While there are over a hundred different types of migraines it comes down to the two ways that headaches are recognized. It really does make sense when you think about it. This goes for both headaches and migraines.

The first type is classified by its symptoms. It is called a primary headache disorder. This is your migraines, cluster headaches, tension headaches, and common headaches. It is basically any headache that causes pain and any sensitivity in your head and/or face. It is what the doctor is going to treat and is not caused by the treatment of something else.

The second type is classified by the cause. It is a secondary headache disorder. To be honest, this type of headache is probably less intense than the first because you probably have other things going with your body. It is the headaches caused by injury, illness, or other disorders. Strokes, accidents, neck injuries, and substance abuse is often to blame for this type of headache. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a true migraine. It usually not the priority of treatment. The priority is the cause and finding a treatment for that. In fact, there are times when the treatment itself may be the cause of the headache.

A Migraine

Most people do not get migraines. Tension headaches appear the be the most common, and the most likely to be confused as a migraine. How do you know if yours is a true migraine? There are some symptoms that only migraines get.

Migraines cause sensitivity to light and sound. They get worse the more you move around. You may get nausea or even throw up. Smells could be overwhelming. The pain is not always local to your head. It may radiate to your eyes, jaw, or neck. You notice signs that you are getting a migraine, your fingers may tingle. You may see auras around lights.

Migraines are often triggered by different things. It may be stress. It may be a smell. You could overexert yourself and that could cause a migraine. There is not always a clear trigger. You may have to watch for signs, write down what you are doing, keep track of what you eat, and be mindful of your environment to figure out what is triggering it.

Treatment for migraines is almost as tricky as trying to figure out how to find the trigger. Your doctor may want to get an MRI during a migraine. There are pain management options that can completely change your life, for better and for worse. It depends on your trigger. That is why it is so important to know what it is. You may find relief with a simple antidepressant. You may simply need to change the way that you eat. Blood work may determine that you are low of a vitamin or a mineral. The only way to know is to talk to your doctor and to come up with a solid game plan.

A Headache

A headache is defined as any pain in your head for any reason. That means you can have a headache from dehydration, an accident, or even a strong smell. All of us get a headache from time to time. Sometimes they can’t be completely avoided and other times, like when we drink, it is completely our fault.

The fact that there are so many types of headaches and they can be impossible to tell apart makes it harder to compare. So, let’s take a look specifically at tension headaches. Tension headaches are most often confused with migraines. They have similar symptoms.

Here are the symptoms that usually signal a tension headache rather than any other type of headache. First, your headache will be on both sides of your head at the same time. It will not radiate. It will not migrate. It will feel like pressure. It isn’t the worst pain you ever felt. You can still function. You are uncomfortable and you may want to lie down but it doesn’t grow in intensity. Lastly, your headache may make your neck feel sore but it won’t hurt terribly.

Tension headaches have noticeable triggers. You will feel it coming. It is almost always caused by stress, tension, or anxiety. It can be brought on by exhaustion. This is especially true if you are losing stress because you are stressing over something that you can’t change.

Oh the Pain Relief

Headaches are usually pretty easy to get rid of. Get plenty of sleep. That means 6-8 hours for adults. Too much sleep is just bad for you as not enough sleep. Drink water. An average adult needs one-third of their body weight in water every single day. Does it sound like a lot? Well, it allows your body to flush out toxins which could help your headache get better.

Find what do you love to do and will help you to unwind. Having a hobby that will help you to unwind and relieve stress. You may find that writing at night before bed can help to get things out of your head so that you aren’t replaying things in your head all night. It gives you a chance to think and work things out. Others read before bed to help them shut their brains off and allow them to go to sleep. Find what works for you, you will be very glad that you did.

How to help your doctor to help you?

Your doctor is your ally in your fight for freedom from headaches. He will help you to decide if your headache is a migraine. How? First, your doctor will want to know how often you are getting them. Occasional headaches are normal. Headaches more than four times a week are not. The first step will probably be pain relief. Often, doctors do not want this to be a long-term solution. Addictions to pain meds, including side effects, may be worse than the migraine itself. What’s the next step?

Sometimes, your doctor will recommend that you go see a therapist. Having someone to talk to about what is going on in your life. It might be awkward at first, but you may find that it is a great relief. The secondary reason for this is for your doctor to determine how likely you are to become dependent on pain medications. Other alternatives may need to be found in your doctor feels like you simply can not handle the pain medications. Or you may need a lower dose.

There are some tests that your doctor may want to do. You may need blood work to determine if there is an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. You may get an MRI done to rule out any visible brain condition. Very rarely, your doctor may do a memory test or brain exercises to help to determine if you have another issue that is causing your pain.

There is something you can do to help yourself. You can keep a journal. Keep track of your moods. Note your daily schedule and any changes that happen. Your diet can affect your brain and even your headaches. Keep track of what you eat and when you eat it. Keep this journal separate from the journal you keep before bed. The goal is to find things that trigger your headache. This is the determining factor behind whether or not you have a migraine or a headache. You will also need to note what the symptoms are and what brings you the most relief. Once you have all this figured out, your doctor can help you help yourself in the best possible way. There isn’t an overnight solution, but it should help to determine what you need long term.

Here we are at the end of the article. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the differences between a migraine and a headache. You should have a good idea on what your next step should be in determining how to treat yours. Once you have the information that you need, it is easier to weigh the pros and cons of any choice your doctor gives you. It also allows you to have informed conversations with your doctor. Understanding why your doctor is following the steps that they have makes it easier to understand your treatment plan. It is your health. You should never feel like it is out of your control.