Migraine vs. Headache: Differences & Treatments
Have you ever asked someone if they have a headache, and they said, “No, it’s a migraine”?
You both are correct.
A migraine is a specific type of headache. Migraine headaches have unique migraine symptoms though. They’re also a leading cause of workplace disability.
Migraines and other types of headache pain require unique treatments, too.
Below, I’ll discuss the differences between migraines and all other headache types — and how to effectively treat both.
Headaches: Types & Causes
There are several types of headaches other than migraine headaches. Let me briefly run through the most important types.
- Tension headaches are the most common headache type. Symptoms include tightening in the back of the neck and scalp, as well as pain on both sides of the head. Stress and bad posture are generally the triggers of tension-type headaches.
- Cluster headaches are the third most common headache type. Cluster headaches are not throbbing. They can be felt behind the eye or on one side of the head. These are thought to be caused by increased blood flow from widening blood vessels.
- Cervicogenic headaches are brought on by bad posture, a pinched nerve, osteoarthritis, whiplash injury, or prolapsed disc. They can mimic symptoms of migraines, and are most effectively treated with upper cervical chiropractic care.
- Medication overuse headaches, formerly known as rebound headaches, happen when you decrease the dosage or altogether stop taking a medicine that you were taking too much of in the first place, such as acetaminophen.
- Sinus headaches occur when your sinuses are inflamed, typically due to the medical condition sinusitis. This triggers unusual pressure which causes a headache.
There are more types of headaches less common than the ones I just mentioned, such as caffeine headaches. Read in depth about all the headache types here.
Migraine: Symptoms & Triggers
Migraine sufferers often claim their migraine pain is worse than a normal headache. They’re right; the symptoms can be worse.
How do you know you have a migraine? The symptoms of migraine headaches can be easy to spot, whether people experience a mild or severe migraine attack:
- Intense, throbbing pain on only one side of the head
- Nausea, upset stomach
- Light, noise, and smell sensitivity
- Abnormal body temperature
Unfortunately, there are also prodrome symptoms, which means symptoms that occur in the day or two leading up to a migraine attack:
- Anxiety, irritability
- Stiff neck
- Constant yawning
What is migraine with aura? Migraine headaches can present with or without aura, which is a set of visual disturbances.
Symptoms of aura may appear thirty minutes before migraine head pain starts. They include:
- Bright spots
- Flashing lights
- Moving lines
- Hearing sounds that aren’t there
- In severe cases, temporary loss of vision
What can trigger migraines? Common migraine triggers include:
- Certain foods
- Lack of sleep, change in sleep patterns
- Physical activity
- Excess alcohol
- Certain smells
- Changes in weather
- Menstruation or other hormonal changes
How can you tell the difference between a headache and migraine?
The differences between migraines and other headaches can be subtle. Sometimes, it’s more obvious.
Migraines are typically more painful and debilitating.
Migraine headaches usually last for between four and 72 hours, whereas tension headaches last between 30 minutes and one week, if left untreated.
The most common headache — tension headache — triggers pressure around both your temples and forehead. But if the pain is beyond moderate, it’s probably a migraine.
Can a headache turn into a migraine? For an unfortunate few, tension headaches can trigger migraines. This is likely due to the stress of a headache causing a migraine to develop. Although we always encourage patients to treat underlying causes of headaches, taking a pain reliever can stop the tension headache before it leads to a more painful migraine.
Effective Treatments for Headache + Migraine
We compiled a list of easy treatment options for getting rid of your headache symptoms or chronic migraines. It’s wise to discuss some of these lifestyle changes with your doctor or neurologist.
Chiropractic care is a common and effective treatment for headaches and can relieve migraine pain. There’s a reason we at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic believe in the power of spinal alignment — we’ve seen it work hundreds of times.
If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to request an appointment with us. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.
A healthy diet is key to preventing migraines. Avoid food additives. If you are prone to headaches, try cutting out potential migraine triggers like wheat and dairy.
Supplementing riboflavin (vitamin B2) or magnesium has shown promise in preventing migraines.
Good hydration may prevent headaches as well.
A regular sleep schedule is key. Not only does a good night’s sleep reduce stress, a sleep routine can decrease potential migraine triggers.
Excessive caffeine consumption may lead to headaches. But caffeine withdrawal is a more common cause of headaches.
Relaxation techniques can reduce stress: meditation, yoga, going outside. Stress is a trigger for both tension headaches and migraines.
If you’re looking for temporary pain relief, there are a few options — both over-the-counter medicines and all-natural remedies. Keep in mind, the pharmaceuticals in this list come with some potentially nasty side effects, particularly when used in excess.
- Migraines can be debilitating. Usually on just one side of the head, migraine attacks can result in nausea or dizziness.
- An aura (visual symptoms) can occur thirty minutes or so before a migraine. Symptoms of migraine with aura include seeing moving lines and bright lights.
- The most common type of headache is tension headache, caused by stress or bad posture. This usually occurs on both sides of the head.
- What is the difference between a headache and a migraine? Simply put, migraines are worse — a leading cause of workplace disability.
- If you have sudden and severe headaches, especially after a head injury, seek medical attention immediately. Also, if a headache causes vomiting, vision loss, difficulty speaking or moving, or partial paralysis, get to a doctor right away.
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Dr. Ty Carzoli
Denver Chiropractor Dr. Ty Carzoli, located in Glendale near Cherry Creek and Wash Park, offers the best in research-based pain relief and wellness care, with an emphasis on gentle treatment delivery. Dr. Carzoli is honored to be the only Chiropractic Orthospinologist in the state of Colorado. The mission of Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic is to help community members have a better life, regardless of their age, vitality level or physical condition. Our practice is family-friendly and caters to the comfort and well-being of every practice member — from infants to seniors.