How to Tell the Difference Between Headaches and Migraines


Knowing the difference between a headache and migraine is very important for a proper diagnosis.


If you ask anyone who suffers from migraines, they will tell you that the difference between a run-of-the-mill headache and a migraine is obvious. That being said, more than half of all people who suffer from migraines are never diagnosed, and women are three times as likely to suffer migraines as men. So what this tells us, is that the difference between headaches and migraines isn’t so easily puzzled out, and there are a lot of women out there that could use some medical intervention for the pain in their heads. So the first step is to figure out if your headaches might actually be a disease.

A migraine is technically classified (by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) as a brain disease that can cause headache-like symptoms for a period lasting up to three days. They can be brought on by any number of stressors, but at a base level, they occur because of changes in the chemical activity of the nervous system.

The reason migraines are so tricky to diagnose is that the symptoms are often different for different people. Here are some of the more common symptoms that might tip you off, if your headaches are frequent, debilitating, and long-lasting.

READ MORE: How to Pinpoint What Triggers Your Migraines

Uneven pain. If the pain is all on one side of your head, it could be a sign of a migraine. Tension and sinus headaches also tend to be localized, but sometimes migraines are specific to an entire lobe of your brain.

Intense throbbing pain. Throbbing is the key word in terms of migraines. Regular headaches might be a dull pain, but a throbbing that feels like your head is going to explode may be a symptom of something more.

Visual cues, like flashes of light. If your vision distorts, you see flashing or sparkling lights, or strange lines or patterns, it could be a sign of changes in the electrical impulses in your brain, which can signal a migraine.

Intense nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. Migraine headaches tend to slow down the bodily processes, and in the gut this can lead to digestive symptoms like nausea, dizziness, or vomiting. If a headache causes any of these issues though, it should be fairly obvious that you may suffer from migraines.

Heightened senses. Lights, noises, and smells may seem much more apparent, and annoying if you are suffering from a migraine. Bad migraines can have similar symptoms to pregnancy and hang-overs, so if your headache has you wanting to curl up in a dark isolation chamber for a few hours or days, it might be a migraine.

So if any of these symptoms seem familiar to you, especially if they occur often (more than 3-4 times per month) and you have tried over-the-counter medications, you should seek medical attention.

There are plenty of ways to get migraines under control, but the first step is realizing you may have a problem in the first place.


Published by karenmsutton

HSS Orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine | Mother of 4 amazing children | Team physician for USA Women's Lacrosse | ACL injury expert

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