Guest Post: Migraine vs Headache – What’s the Difference?

This is a guest post written by John Martinez with Axon Optics.

If someone were to ask you to define a migraine, what would you say?

“The worst pain ever, thank you very much. The worst.”

“The reason I called out of work last week.”


Or maybe you might let out a bunch of expletives to describe the agony of all of your migraine symptoms. If asked to elaborate, at some point you would compare it to a headache.

Migraines sufferers will be the first people to tell you that there is a big difference between a minor headache and a splitting migraine. And these differences are important to know. If you want to treat a migraine properly, popping a simple Advil and calling it a day probably won’t work. Know the root causes and the symptoms of a migraine to prevent them from taking control of your life.

The Main Differences Between a Migraine and a Headache

Level of Pain

A headache can be as simple as a dull ache. Certain types of headaches can cause severe pain, but most people experiencing a headache only view the episode as a minor inconvenience.

On the other hand, migraines are typically always severe. Migraine sufferers often describe intense, throbbing, pulsing pain. They may feel like their heads are about to split open. If you’ve never had a migraine, know when people say “head-splitting pain,” they’re not just being dramatic.  

Location of Pain

If you ask someone with a headache to locate their pain, they might just say, “my head.” Well, obviously, but where in your head do you feel pain?

Migraine sufferers will probably have a more specific answer. They usually feel a migraine on one specific side of the head, around the temples, or just behind one eye or ear.

People who experience cluster headaches may also experience pain on one side of the head. These episodes come as a “cluster” and are quickly followed by no pain at all. Migraines come with a different sort of process that include additional symptoms.

Additional Symptoms

Headaches are usually isolated incidents. Certain types of headaches, like sinus headaches, may be accompanied with other symptoms, but headaches that come from stress don’t come with other types of baggage.

Migraines? Forget about it. You’re not just going to have a splitting headache when you get a migraine. You might also experience:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flashing lights
  • Loss of vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sound sensitivity

These are symptoms that you might feel during a migraine. Aura migraines come with a whole bundle of symptoms that people may feel before the migraine and head-splitting pain begins. Initial symptoms of an aura migraine include:

  • Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Trouble thinking or speaking
  • Visual changes (seeing dots or lights)
  • Strange sensory changes

Certain types of aura migraines may also cause the temporary loss of vision in one eye.

Preventing Headaches and Migraines

As you can see, a headache and a migraine are two completely different experiences. Neither one is particularly fun, but headaches aren’t always as severe as migraines. Due to the additional symptoms and severity of migraine pain, over 90% of migraine sufferers feel that they are unable to work due to an attack.

In order to live the most productive life possible, migraine sufferers need to know how to prevent and treat an oncoming migraine.

Headache prevention is important, don’t get us wrong, but it’s fairly simple. Stress, neck and shoulder pain, and dehydration can all cause headaches. Maintain a healthy diet, drink water, and maintain a healthy spine and neck alignment when you sleep, stand, or sit.

Migraine triggers are different for every person. Caffeine, chocolate, or even dairy can trigger a migraine. So can exercise or hormones. Doctors often recommend that patients keep a daily “headache diary” with the food they ate, the activities they did, or where they are at in their menstrual cycle. These records can usually help point out things that consistently cause migraines.

One of the most consistent migraine triggers are light and sound. Rapid changes in light and sound (like exiting a movie theater or taking off a sleep mask) can be serious triggers. Migraine sufferers can use special glasses with FL-41 tint to help make these transitions easier and prevent triggering lightwaves from causing a migraine.

Suffering from migraines? Go to a doctor.

One of the most tragic statistics about migraines is that over 50% of migraine sufferers are not diagnosed. There are treatments available for migraines. If the symptoms and causes of a migraine sound like the “intense headaches” you are getting, visit a medical professional immediately. Don’t let migraines control your life.

Published by shitsandgiggleswithb

A 20 something university graduate who was recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Follow me and my journey with this chronic illness.

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