Headache or Migraine: How to tell the difference


A migraine is a headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.


For some people, a warning symptom known as an aura occurs before or with the headache. An aura can include visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots, or other disturbances, such as tingling on one side of the face or in an arm or leg and difficulty speaking. Medications can help prevent some migraines and make them less painful. The right medicines, combined with self-help remedies and lifestyle changes, might help.


Here are 4 of the most common types of headaches, how you can tell the difference, and when to see your doctor.


When It’s Actually a Migraine

If you have a migraine, you may experience:

  • An aura, or light haze, in the minutes before migraine pain appears

  • Blurry vision

  • Pain on one side of your head

  • Light, touch, smell or sound sensitivity

  • Nausea

Occasional migraines can be brought on by:

  • Hormone fluctuations

  • Stress

  • Certain foods

  • Lack of food or hydration

  • Changes in the weather

In the case of a one-time migraine, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief.


Tension Headache vs. Migraine

Tension headaches, which are brought on by emotional, mental or physical stress, are more common than migraines.

People who have tension headaches often complain of a band of pain across their forehead, or pressure on either side of the head. The pain is tiring, but not as severe as migraine.

Migraine, on the other hand, usually hurts worse on one side of the head. And, you may experience light sensitivity, aura, or bright lines or dots in your field of vision.

Tension headaches may resolve on their own once the source of stress is gone. In these cases, over-the-counter pain medications and lifestyle adjustments may help.


Sinus Headache vs. Migraine

Pain with a runny or stuffy nose is the typical symptom of a sinus headache. But did you know that a migraine can also cause these symptoms? The difference is in the color of your mucus:

* If your mucus is clear and runny, it could be a migraine.

* Sinus headaches can be a sign of a sinus infection that causes your mucus to thicken and sometimes turn a yellowish color.


Cluster Headache vs. Migraine

Just like migraines, cluster headaches affect one side of the head and are incredibly painful.

But unlike migraines, cluster headaches come on suddenly with a piercing pain that feels like someone stabbed you in the eye or temple with a knitting needle. Cluster headaches can also result in a stuffy nose and teary eyes.

Migraine pain usually starts with some type of signal, such as a flashing light in your visual field or a light aura. While cluster headaches can resolve quickly (within a few hours), migraines can last for days.


To help your doctor diagnose the source of your headaches, its useful to keep track of how often they’re happening. This way, your doctor can determine whether there’s a pattern in triggers.


If you would like to speak with a doctor about your headaches or schedule an appointment visit our website to find the nearest clinic. www.nemohealthcouncil.com


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