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Headache vs. Migraine – How to Differentiate Between the Two

Headache vs. Migraine – How to Differentiate Between the Two

When you have a severe headache, you cannot be sure if it is a normal headache or a migraine headache. To treat the pain in the best possible way, it is essential to differentiate between the two. Not only does it help you relieve the pain faster but it may also let you prevent its future occurrences. 

Let’s find out the differences between a normal headache and a migraine headache below:

What is a Headache?

A normal headache (or just a headache) is referred to as a pain in any area of your head. Your brain has several pain-sensitive nerves, brain tissues, and blood vessels underneath the scalp, which send signals. These signals are received as pain in the brain cells.

Medical practitioners describe a headache as pain right above the eyes and ears, typically behind your head 0r, sometimes, in the back of your upper neck. There are some other definitions of a headache, which include the term ‘Continuous’ without defining it.

Out of many definitions of a headache, some localized to particular areas of your head while others simply do not.

What is a Migraine Headache?

A migraine headache is referred to as a severe pulsing sensation or throbbing pain, typically on one side of your head. Migraine headaches usually go together with nausea and vomiting. You also become extremely sensitivity to bright lights and almost any sound out there.

People with migraines (also called migraineurs) usually experience symptoms related to visual or other sensory nerves before an episode. Some people, on the other hand, have these symptoms during/after a migraine.

Some migraineurs find the pain so debilitating that it interferes with their everyday activities. Statistics show that migraine headaches are more commonly occur in women compared to men.

While every migraine headache may cause throbbing pain in your head, you may experience and call a recent one ‘the worst migraine headache ever’. In such a case, make sure to see a doctor immediately.

Differentiating Pains from a Migraine and a Normal Headache

The pain in your head is a migraine if it has at least 3 of the following 5 symptoms:

The pain is –

  1. moderate to severe,
  2. Pulsating, 
  3. In only on one side of your head, 
  4. Accompanied by Nausea and/or Vomiting, 
  5. Accompanies by Photophobia and/or phonophobia

Here, the term photophobia and phonophobia refer to sensitivity to light and sound, respectively.

Signs and Symptoms that occur only in Migraines

A migraine headache is usually preceded by a visual band (commonly called an aura) that has a glittering or shimmering border that precedes a throbbing head pain, which can last as few as 5 minutes and up to 60 minutes.

The other usual signs and symptoms found in migraine headaches are:

  • Aura
  • Moderate to intense pain on one side of your head/neck 
  • Headaches go together with nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds
  • Worsening headache due to physical activities

Similar Signs and Symptoms of a Headache and a Migraine

Both migraines and normal headaches cause pain or very much discomfort in your head. Sometimes a headache causes a pulsating pain, similar to a migraine, in your head. Migraines cause pain on one side of your head/neck similar to hormonal and cluster headaches.

A headache can be a mild inconvenience or severe and debilitating pain in the head. Early identification and treatment can help you prevent it from happening in the future. While it can be difficult to distinguish between migraines and certain other types of headaches, taking preventive measures can help you avoid or suppress the pain.


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