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What’s the Difference between Migraine and Headaches?

Most of us are used to thumping pain in our temples. Just more trouble, right? Not so quickly. Learn the difference between migraine and headaches before you write off your pain as just another headache. If you knew the main differences between them, you might finally feel better.



What's a Migraine?


For the most people Migraine means a bad headache. Migraine headaches are usually throbbing in character, unilateral in distribution, terrible and last long but headaches aren't the only sign of migraines. Following are Migraine symptoms in addition to severe head pain:


  • Nausea and/ or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or smells that has grown
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Visual disturbance/ aura


A migraine can happen in four different stages, but not everyone goes through all of them. These are the steps:


Prodrome phase: This is sometimes called the "pre-headache" phase, and it has symptoms that don't hurt that happen hours or days before the migraine headache starts. Some of these are mood swings, a strong desire for food, and a stiff neck.


Aura Phase: Auras are changes in how you feel that can happen before or during a migraine. Auras can affect a person's sight, touch, or speaking ability, but not everyone with migraines has them. Aura symptoms include blurry vision, blind spots that get bigger over time, arm numbness, and slurred or jumbled speech.


Headache Phase: This is when the pain usually starts, and it can be anywhere from mild to crippling. Pain can be made worse by moving around and being exposed to light, sound, and smell. It may last from 4 hours to 72 hours if untreated. Some people, though, can have a migraine without getting a headache.


Postdromal phase: The pain has gone away, so this is the last phase. During this phase, people may feel tired, confused, or sick.


Migraine causes:


The exact cause of migraine is still a mystery though there are many hypotheses. However certain things regarding its origin are established.


Gender and hormonal shifts - Because of differences in gender and hormones, women are three times more likely than men to get migraines. Brockman says that women's periods and changes in hormones can cause migraines.


Allergies also called allergic rhinitis, make the body irritated and inflamed. Some people get migraines when their blood vessels get inflamed, which can happen when they have allergies.


Family history and genetics: If someone in your family has migraines, you are more likely to get them yourself. Scientists have found a genetic change that most people with the most common type of migraine have.


Environmental triggers include changes in the weather, stress, food, smells, and not getting enough sleep.


Other types of regular headaches: Leaving headaches due to tumour, infection, stroke and trauma etc. apart, here are some of the most common types of regular headache.


Tension headaches: The pain from tension headaches often starts in the back of the head and moves forward. This is the most common kind of pain in the head usually does not require any specific treatment and goes off with rest or simple analgesics. Tension headaches are usually caused by eye strain, stress, or hunger and can last for a long time.


Sinus headaches tend to happen when you're sick or have a stuffy nose. They are caused by swelling in the sinus passages, which causes pain behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. When you wake up in the morning and bend forward, the pain is often at its worst.


Cluster headaches are usually very painful and happen every day (usually at the same time) up to several times a day for months. They happen when serotonin and histamines get out of the brain's blood vessels and cause them to widen. They can be caused by working out, high altitude, or bright lights




How to Treat Headaches and Migraines


Even though there isn't a single cure for migraines, medicine and changes to your lifestyle can help treat your symptoms and stop them from happening again.


Medicines you can buy anywhere.


For those who suffer from infrequent and mild to moderate attacks of migraine only simple analgesics such as paracetamol or naproxen are required to treat it.


Medication by prescription


If you get frequent moderate to severe migraines that affect daily activities, over-the-counter medicines might not be enough to help you feel better. Prophylactic medication are required to reduce the severity, intensity and frequency of migraines. These medicines includes


  • Beta-blockers, which are used to treat high blood pressure
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medicines
  • Botox is an injection of botulinum toxin A.
  • CGRP antagonists


Changes in lifestyle


Some headaches and migraines can be prevented by changing how you live. These things are:


  • Getting regular exercise
  • You are changing your diet, so you don't eat foods that make you sick.
  • Improving sleep habits to have good sleep
  • Using techniques to calm down, like yoga and meditation
  • Avoiding migraine triggers.



Keeping a migraine or headache diary can help you notice patterns and figure out what sets them off. Note the day and time your headache or migraine started, where you were, what you did before the pain began, and how long it hurt. This information can help you and your doctor devises a plan to avoid your triggers and reduce how often you get headaches or migraines.


People should also see a doctor if any of the following happen because of their headaches:

  • It make hard for them to do their jobs or enjoy life.
  • Any change in pattern of headache
  • Very severe headache of sudden onset( within a minute)
  • Headache worsening day by day
  • Headache associated with fever, change in mental state or any visual blurring
  • New onset headache specially in old age




At some point in their lives, most people will have a headache. Headaches vary in how bad they are, how often they happen, and why they happen.


Headache disorders can make it hard for someone to do their daily tasks and lower their overall quality of life. This is why it's so important to make correct diagnoses. If you can tell the difference between migraine and headaches , you can treat it faster and better.



Dr. Ritwiz Bihari
Meet The Doctor
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