Migraines vs. Headaches: Key Differences You Need to Know

September 20, 2019

Migraines can be debilitating. Their throbbing head pain, nausea, and dizziness make it difficult to engage in ordinary tasks like getting dressed and brushing your teeth. Doctors still don’t know what causes migraines other than that they’re often triggered by light, exercise, strong smells, and eating certain foods.

We do know, however, what separates a migraine from a much more typical tension headache. Before we get to the differences between migraines and tension headaches, there are a few other important questions to ask.

What is a Headache?

A headache is any type of lingering pain in the head, face, or sometimes upper neck. The term describes a number of distinct medical conditions both common and rare. As the name suggests, the only similarity between every type of headache is that they cause pain in the head.

What Types of Headaches are There?

Headaches are typically classified into two groups, primary and secondary. You can probably surmise their respective definitions. Primary headaches are independent conditions causing head pain. Both tension headaches (the most common type of headaches) and migraines are examples of primary headaches.

Secondary headaches are caused by another medical condition, like an infection, stress, or medication overuse. In other words, secondary headaches are caused by an illness, whereas primary headaches are the illness.

What is a Migraine Headache?

As mentioned above, a migraine is a type of primary headache disorder. Migraines are characterized by severe pain lasting for multiple days and recurring on a regular basis. While tension headaches typically only affect both sides of the brain, migraines more commonly affect only one side. This means that your typical tension headache tends to be bilateral, while migraines tend to be unilateral.

What Types of Migraine Headaches are There?

The most essential way to categorize migraines is by where or not they have a migraine aura. A migraine aura refers to visual disturbances associated with migraines such as blind spots and flashes of lights.

Migraine auras are present in about a third of individuals who suffer from migraine headaches, they are generally present before the pain comes, and they do not appear every time.

Migraines vs. Headaches

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of what headaches and migraines are, let’s get to the similarities and differences between tension headaches and migraine headaches.

migraine vs headache

Tension Headache and Migraine Headache Similarities

Even though migraines and tension headaches are both types of headaches, they are more different than they are similar. Both are defined by head pain that comes on gradually or slowly and can vary in intensity.

Nasal congestion is also common for both. However, this doesn't mean that nasal congestions are the cause, as there's no consensus among experts as to the cause for either.

Tension Headache and Migraine Headache Differences

Though migraine headaches and tension headaches each come with head pain, migraine head pain is far worse. Accompanying symptoms in migraine headaches like dizziness and nausea also make them more difficult to endure.

As mentioned before, migraine pain tends to be unilaterally isolated to one spot in the brain while tension headaches are bilateral and are felt in the head in general. Unlike tension headaches, migraines tend to be recurring rather than occurring only every once in a while.

Need Relief From Your Migraine Headaches?

At Greater Austin Pain Center, we know how migraines can make life unbearable. They can ruin a good night's sleep and make you dizzy and nauseous all day long.

Getting help from a qualified pain-management specialist can save you from months or even years of unnecessary suffering.

Don't hesitate to call us or fill out our form today. We'll schedule a time for you to visit our pain clinic so that you can get the treatment you need as soon as possible!

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