What are the Differences Between Headaches and Migraines

December 3, 2017

Headaches vs. Migraines

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, we all know that. So what makes them different? How can you tell if you’ve got a headache or a migraine?

For starters, headache pain is typically evenly distributed in the affected area (though this isn’t always the case). For example, a lot 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. 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.

While there’s no single, clear-cut indicator of a migraine, one of the more sure-fire signs is the presence of associated symptoms. Many migraines will come on with one or more of the following symptoms, which typically aren’t associated with headaches alone:

  • nausea
  • seeing spots or flashing lights
  • sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • temporary vision loss
  • vomiting

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

Some migraine sufferers will even 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

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.

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Migraine Phases. Retrieved from https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/migraine-phases/
Nall, Rachel. (2017, July). What’s the Difference Between Migraines and Headaches. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/migraine-vs-headache