Is a Headache and a Migraine the Same Thing?

Updated: January 29, 2019

December 3, 2017

Woman lying on couch with migraine

Everyone’s had a headache at some point in their life – they’re pretty common and usually aren’t much cause for concern. But anyone who’s had a migraine will tell you, it’s a completely different experience.

Sure, both headaches and migraines involve head pain, so what makes them different? How can you tell if you’ve got a headache or a migraine?

Headache vs. Migraine

For starters, headache pain is typically evenly distributed in the affected area (though this isn’t always the case). For example, many of headaches will manifest as a dull pain in the forehead, both temples, or across the back of the neck.

Migraines are more likely to be isolated to one side of the head and the pain is often described as intense, pulsing, or throbbing. The degree of pain plays a role too, though it isn’t the determining factor. Where headache pain can be severe and a disturbance to daily activities, many people are incapable of engaging in their daily routines when a migraine strikes.

Migraine Symptoms and Phases

Phase 1: Prodrome

Some migraine sufferers will feel warning signs up to a day or two before they feel any head pain, which is known as the “prodrome” phase of a migraine. These symptoms include:

  • aphasia: difficulty finding words and/or speaking
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • difficulty concentrating
  • excessive yawning
  • fatigue
  • food cravings
  • hyperactivity
  • increased frequency of urination
  • mood changes — feeling depressed, irritable, etc.
  • neck pain
  • sleepiness

Phase 2: Aura

Additionally, some migraines also have what’s called an “aura.” This refers to symptoms someone experiences about 10 to 30 minutes before the onset of the migraine headache itself. These aura symptoms can include:

  • feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking
  • seeing flashing lights or unusual lines
  • feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands
  • having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch

Phase 3: Headache

In addition to head pain that’s oftentimes described as throbbing or drilling, migraines will frequently come on with one or more of the following symptoms, which typically aren’t associated with headaches alone:

  • insomnia
  • nasal congestion
  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • seeing spots or flashing lights
  • sensitivity to light, sound, and/or smell
  • temporary vision loss
  • vomiting

Phase 4: Postdrome

Even after the headache passes, some people will feel lingering side effects of a migraine. Some can feel fatigued, depressed, or even euphoric after the pain subsides.

Simply put, migraines typically tend to be more complex than headaches. It can be difficult to determine on your own whether your head pain is a headache or a migraine, so to know for sure, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Some types of head pain can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, so it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying to self-medicate.

If you’d like to learn more about Neurocore’s med-free migraine program, give us a call at 800.600.4096.

Migraine Phases. Retrieved from
Nall, Rachel. (2017, July). What’s the Difference Between Migraines and Headaches. Retrieved from

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