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Migraine vs Headache: Key Differences Between The Two

In today’s stressful times getting a headache is not a big deal. The stress of work and wrong posture of sitting may all contribute to the same. However, most people tend to confuse a migraine headache with normal headaches. They continue taking the same treatment that they would in case of a plain headache. The truth, however, is pretty harsh as both of them are strikingly different from each other. Migraine vs Headache is a confusing topic for many. Here we tell you what makes a migraine different from a plain headache and how to identify what is ailing you.

What Is A Headache?

A headache can be defined as a pain in any part of the head. Pain-sensitive nerves in the scalp, blood vessels etc. send signs to the brain and that is registered as pain. There are many types of headaches, and that is dependent on where the pain is getting localised.

  • Tension headaches– This is characterised by a band like pain on both sides of the head. Your head feels as if it has been strapped tight.
  • A cluster headache– Cluster headaches where the pain is localised to only one part of the brain. Pain is quite severe, and it feels as if someone is dabbing your eyes.
  • Sinus headaches– In case you have a history of sinus congestion the same may give rise to sinus headaches. It usually happens when you are facing sinus congestion and is associated with light or moderate pain around the facial sinus area or your eyes.
  • Hormonal headaches– Quite similar to a migraine in nature Hormonal headaches happen during the time you are facing imbalances in the same, e.g. pregnancy, periods or menopause.

What Is A Migraine?

A migraine, on the other hand, is much more severe and is a throbbing pain which affects one part of your head. It is also accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting and high-level sensitivity to light, sound and even smells. A migraine usually happens in four or five stages and once the attack is over the person feels quite drained out and tired.

The pain associated with a Migraine is quite excruciating, and it usually takes around 72 hours for one attack to get over properly. Also, migraine affects women more than men, and that could be because hormonal imbalance is a major contributor to its inception.

Normally people do not understand the difference in pain amongst the two. For a headache to classify as a migraine, the pain should be moderate to severe, pulsating, on one side of the head and is accompanied by other signs like nausea etc.

Signs And Symptoms Of A Headache

A headache usually happens when you are suffering from any other ailment as well. As soon as you recover from that disease, the headache also tends to go away. Cold, flu, and injuries are diseases which bring a headache along with them. It also happens that if you start or stop a treatment, your body may respond to it with a headache.

However, on certain occasions, your headache may be because of something severe and if you notice any of the below signs you should consult a doctor immediately.

  • Confusion, nausea, a feeling of sluggishness or any head injury.
  • Fever and when you bend your head in front of a sharp pain experienced
  • Continuous and severe pain in one eye.
  • A feeling of pain and sensitivity around cheeks and eyes.

Signs And Symptoms Of a Migraine

If the pain that you are experiencing is quite severe and does not go even after you have popped painkiller chances are you have a migraine attack. A visit to your doctor and he will let you know if there is a cause of concern. Normally the following signs convey whether you are facing migraine or a normal pain.

  • A pre-headache period before the actual pain starts. This period is the time when you feel fatigued and tired also.
  • Any other experiences accompanied by a headache like sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting etc.
  • Are there any triggers that cause you to experience the pain?
  • Stiffness in the neck accompanied by a difficulty in moving it.
  • Is there a particular time when you experience this headache?
  • Are you experiencing chills or sweat during that time?
  • Is your vision getting affected because of the pain?

Causes Of Migraine And Normal Headache

A migraine is closely affected by genetics. In around 70% of the cases a person whose family member has had a history of a migraine may also start facing the same. There are no particular causes of a Migraine, but triggers cause the pain to resurface again and again.

  • Stress
  • Muscle tension
  • Infection or sinus congestion
  • Headaches caused by hormones may happen when an imbalance in the same happens.
  • Strong smells like perfumes, paints etc.
  • Smoking
  • Any trauma to the head
  • Motion sickness
  • Change in the environment, e.g. From heat to cold.
  • Consumption of red wine
  • Allergies
  • Specific foods like sweeteners
  • Nitrates are containing meats.

Normally these triggers and signs are usually only for Migraines, and a normal headache may not need any such sign to manifest itself.

Treatment For A Normal Headache

A normal headache may get away once its cause goes away. That is if you are suffering from a headache because of a cold or any other disease once it goes your pain would also go away. However, you can use the following methods to get rid of it quickly.

  • Ibuprofen to get rid of tension headaches.
  • A cluster headache may need a treatment like a migraine
  • For sinus headaches first, use antihistamines to get rid of the congestion. You would also need antibiotics for treatment of a sinus infection.
  • A combination of Triptans and NSAID may be needed for a Hormonal headache.

Treatment For A Migraine

Consulting a neurosurgeon may be the best when you are dealing with a migraine headache. The type of migraine you are suffering from may be treated with either preventive medicines or a course of heavy drugs. The following methods can be used for treating migraine:

  • The treatment of a migraine should be done within 15 minutes of the onset of pain. This ensures that the impact of pain may be subdued in some form at least.
  • The moderate pain of a migraine can be treated with OTC medicines, anti-inflammatory drugs and also some specific medicines falling in the category of triptans.
  • For very severe migraine attacks you can take ergot alkaloid drugs/triptans, however, do not do so without consulting a physician first.
  • Very extreme headaches may need intranasal, intravenous or injections of an ergot or Triptan medicine. If you are admitted to a hospital, you may be administered additional opioid analgesic with a dopamine

Apart from that, a migraine can be averted if you can keep your triggers under control. You can also opt for alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga, and meditation to ensure that the attack does not come. In any case staying away from stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best manner to face the hardship of a migraine.

  • Alcohol, chocolate, cheese and certain other foods may trigger a headache. If you feel there is a particular item causing you the pain reduce its consumption to a bare minimum.
  • Smoking can be a major reason why your migraine may come. Try to abstain from it especially if you have suffered from a migraine.
  • A regular balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, whole grain, and healthy fats is a must to ensure that you do not face such a pain again. Also, regular meals and on time is necessary.
  • Sleeping adequately and ensuring that you sleep and wake up at the same time every day will help in keeping the sleep trigger of a migraine under control.
  • Aerobic, strengthening and flexibility exercises are mandatory if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also reduces your chances of facing a problem as severe as a migraine.
  • One symptom of a migraine is a pain in the neck and shoulder and if you do not maintain a correct posture while sitting this can cause a migraine and headache too.
  • Stress is a major trigger for a migraine and if you have any such issue in your life take concrete measures to get rid of it. For that purpose, you may need to follow meditation and practice deep breathing.

Headache of any kind can be extremely disturbing to your daily routine. If it’s a normal one, then trust that it will go away. However, in the case of a migraine you need to be extremely careful. The fact that migraines are not only very painful but also take some days to completely treated adds up to the trauma of having one.

Certain triggers initiate a migraine attack and if you carefully monitor you will realise what it is for you. Once that happens avoiding it won’t be a big thing for you. If the attack takes more than three days to go away, it would be better if you consult a doctor as there may be some other underlying cause of the same which could be a cause of concern.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.