Difference Between Headaches & Migraines

Difference Between Headaches & Migraines

You have a throbbing ache in your temples, and maybe it’s hard to focus through the pain. It could just be a headache, but are you sure? Millions of people suffer from this sort of discomfort, but knowing the difference between a headache and a migraine can help you find a treatment that works.

How Many People Get Migraines?

According to some statistics, migraines affect nearly 40 million people in the United States regardless of gender or age, though women are at greater risk compared to men and children. The Journal of the American Medical Association puts the migraine problem in even greater perspective, noting that it affects more than 10% of people worldwide.

What Makes Headaches & Migraines Different?

If your head is pounding with pain and pressure, it can be hard to know whether it’s a headache or a migraine. You’ve experienced both, and you’re sure you can tell the difference. But some people have less tolerance for head pain than others and can easily mistake a bad headache for a migraine.

How can some people mistake the two? It’s often because when someone thinks of a migraine, they envision the worst possible headache. But headaches are just a migraine symptom, and they can vary in duration and severity. Unlike headaches, migraines are chronic in nature, and typically the cause is unknown. 

A headache, on the other hand, isn’t usually a sign of an underlying condition. Instead, it could be caused by active blood vessels, brain chemicals, nerves, or muscles. Headaches are often attributed to anxiety or depression, stress, a physical injury, or changes in barometric pressure and other weather variations.

Don’t just dismiss your pain as simply another headache. Try to understand the difference between the two. Knowing what makes each one unique could mean quicker, more effective relief with targeted treatment, and even preventing the onset of future pain. 

The most significant difference between headaches and migraines is the severity of the pain you experience. Besides near-debilitating head pain, your symptoms may also include nausea, more sensitivity to light, sound, or smells; dizziness; and extreme fatigue.

Whereas a headache will come and go, often on its own, a migraine is more intense and accompanied by four phases, each with unique symptoms. Many can be treated with ketamine.

Phase 1 – Prodrome

Here’s where it begins, often one or two days before a migraine strikes. The first signs are normally subtle changes that herald an upcoming migraine, including:

  • Constipation
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Craving certain foods
  • Neck stiffness
  • Urinating more than normal
  • Fluid retention
  • Frequently yawning

Phase 2 – Aura

This can happen before or during migraines. Auras are reversible warning signs of the nervous system. Primarily visual, they can also feature other disturbances. The symptoms begin slowly, accumulating over several minutes and persisting for up to an hour. Symptoms may include:

  • Visual disturbances, like seeing strange shapes or bright spots or flickers of light
  • Vision loss
  • A pins and needles sensation in your arms or legs
  • You notice weakness or numbness in your face or one side of your body
  • You have trouble speaking

Phase 3 – Attack

The attack phase may last from four to 72 hours, with the frequency varying from person to person. It’s not unusual for migraines to happen rarely or several times each month. Symptoms often include:

  • Pain on one side of the head, but often on both 
  • Pain that pulses or throbs 
  • You’re more sensitive to light, sound, and occasionally smell and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting

The fourth and final phase is called the postdrome phase.

After a migraine attack, you can feel physically exhausted, confused, and worn out for a day or so. There could be feelings of elation, but sudden head movement can trigger the pain again in short bursts.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If your headache is debilitating or accompanied by intense physical symptoms, it’s time to see your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. A migraine can’t be diagnosed by a single test, and the main determining factor in whether you’re experiencing one is the duration and severity of the pain. You could undergo certain tests, though, like magnetic resonance imaging or a computerized tomography scan.

Migraine symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. Standard treatment includes pain-relieving or preventative medicines, relaxation techniques, lifestyle and dietary changes, meditation, resting in a dark, quiet room, and even ketamine infusion therapy. But the key is to act. Otherwise, they will often persist.

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