How to Differentiate Headaches from a Migraine?

When there is a burning pain in your head, it becomes difficult to tell whether you are experiencing a regular headache or is it a migraine. Therefore, it is important to recognize a traditional headache from a migraine headache to get the right treatment. Having knowledge of your problem helps you get fast and better treatment which ultimately means that you can further prevent the occurrence of the problem at the first place. So how can you differentiate the two?


Any unpleasant pain that you might be experiencing in the head is often termed as a headache. It can range from mild to extreme pain and occur on both sides of the head equally. There may be some specific areas such as temples, forehead or the back of your neck where you may experience a headache. One of the most commonly experienced headaches is a tension headache which is triggered when a person is in stress, experiencing anxiety or muscle strain. Other types are Sinus headache and Cluster headache.


When compared to tension headaches, migraine headaches are often described as moderate to extreme. These headaches are intense and are accompanied by a number of symptoms apart from headache. Some of the symptoms commonly observed during a migraine are:

  • Pain in one eye or ear.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seeing flashlights or spots.
  • Temporary vision loss.
  • Sensitivity to sound or light.
  • Pain on one side of the head.

Some individuals experience an extremely severe headache which goes away after a week. A migraine headache is differentiated by throbbing headaches which make it difficult to perform even the simplest task. A headache associated with migraine is generally categorized into two categories:

  • Migraine with Aura.
  • Migraine without Aura.

The word, “Aura” refers to a sensation that an individual might experience 10 to 30 minutes before he gets a migraine headache. During this time, he may.

  • See flashing lights.
  • Feel less active mentally or have trouble thinking.
  • Feel tingling sensation in the hands or face.
  • Experience unusual sense of touch, smell and taste.

What Triggers a Migraine?

A large number of factors have been identified that may trigger a migraine. Some of the most commonly seen factors are:

  • Your Boss: Yes, it’s true, anything or anyone that increases your stress levels make you more vulnerable to a migraine or a tension headache.
  • Weather: With the changing temperature, there are high chances that you will get a headache. Sunny and extremely hot weather is also believed to be a reason you may get a migraine attack.
  • Hair Accessories: An extremely tight ponytail or braids can lead to a hairdo headache. If this is the cause of your headache, you can immediately get a relief by letting your hair down.
  • Food: Certain types of foods and drinks such as aged cheese, red wine, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, dairy products and chocolates are also responsible for triggering a migraine headache in an individual.
  • Hormone Medicines: Various medicines such as hormone replacement or birth control medications can easily trigger or worsen a migraine.

Headaches & Migraine Causes

Till date, no specific cause of a migraine has been found; however, it has been reported that fluctuations in neurotransmitters might be one of the reasons. Some other possible theories behind the cause of migraine include: Vascular problems: Vascular problem or irregularities in brain blood vessels is also believed to be one of the main causes behind triggering migraine. Chemical Abnormalities: There are several types of nerve pathways and brain chemicals active during a headache. Abnormalities in the brain chemicals can cause migraine attack.

Risk Factors

Not everyone develops a headache following a migraine attack. While some people are more resistant to headaches other are more sensitive. Some risk factors include:

  • Family History: If a person in your blood relation is suffering from a migraine, there are high chances that you will have it too. It has been reported that 90% of migraine patients have a hereditary migraine.
  • Age: Migraine headaches can affect a person at any age. An individual can experience his first migraine attack during adolescence.

Treating Migraines

Migraine treatment helps stop the symptoms, further preventing the attacks. Majorly two categories of medicines are used to treat the neurological disorder.

  • Pain-relieving medicines: These medicines are taken during the migraine attack to stop the symptoms.
  • Preventing medicines: These drugs are taken on a regular basis to reduce the frequency or severity of a migraine.

Ask your doctor about the right treatment for you. Don’t use over-the-counter drugs without first talking about it with your doctor.

Our Doctors

Dr. Dolgovina is board-certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine
Dr. Marina Neystat is a board-certified neurologist, Affiliate Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, and co-owner of Advanced Medical Care

Advanced Medical Care doctors carry out diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and rehabilitation procedures using modern equipment

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