The Difference Between Headache and Migraine

Over 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, but fewer than 5%  of those affected have been accurately diagnosed and received appropriate care. Before you assume your pain is just a headache, learn the differences between headache and migraine. Knowing the differences between the two diagnoses is the first step towards receiving appropriate treatment for greater relief.
A tension type headache typically feels like a steady ache or discomfort in the head. The pain may be distracting, but not debilitating like most migraines. The pain from tension headaches tends to spread across both sides of the head. Migraine headache is usually described as a severe, debilitating, throbbing pain. The pain is usually unilateral or one sided. In addition to the pain you may have associated symptoms such as light-headedness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to sound.
Migraine is a complex neurological phenomenon. Migraine tends to occurs in four different phases, though not everyone experiences every phase. The phases include: prodrome phase, aura phase, headache phase and postdrome phase. Prodrome phase, sometimes called the pre-headache phase, features painless symptoms that occur hours or days before the migraine arrives. These include mood swings, food cravings and stiffness of the neck. During the aura phase, sensory disturbances can occur before or during a migraine. Auras can affect a person’s vision, touch or speech, though not everyone who suffers from migraines experiences auras. Examples of auras include blurred visions, blind spots that expand over time, numbness in the arm, and slurred or jumbled speech. In the headache phase the pain usually hits, and it may range from mild to debilitating. Physical activity and exposure to light, sound and smells may worsen the pain. The postdrome phase or the final phase is when the pain has subsided. People may feel exhausted, confused or generally unwell during this phase.

By: Caroline Pruski, NP