Headache vs Migraines – Differences, Symptoms, Causes

Differences between Headaches and Migraines

A sensation of pain in any region of the head is known as a headache. The pain in headache may encompass the entire head area. Alternatively, the pain may be restricted to specific regions such as the temples, back of the head, front of the head or one side of the head. Pain may also involve regions of the face and neck. The pain in headache may even radiate outwards from its initial location and eventually cover a large part of the head.

The sensation of pain itself is not the same in all individuals suffering from a headache. Depending on the cause, the pain sensation varies from person to person. Headaches may be described as dull pain, sharp pain, throbbing pain, or pressure sensation in the head. They may happen suddenly without any warning, or develop slowly. It may be one-off events that do not last long, or chronic conditions that last days and weeks. Headaches may even be episodic, with bouts of headache separated by long periods of no pain.

Migraine is a type of headache that is characterized by certain unique features. It causes intense throbbing pain, mostly on one side of the head, along with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to visual and auditory stimuli. The pain in migraine is so intense that it can prevent normal functioning of affected individuals. Migraine pain usually persists for many hours to many days. The onset of a migraine attack is sometimes preceded by warning symptoms that its sufferers learn to identify. These warning symptoms, known as aura, include seeing flashes of light, blind spots, and tingling sensations along one side of the face, arm or leg.

Also read migraines.

Symptoms of Headaches and Migraines

Headaches cause many different types of symptoms. The only common feature between different types of headaches is the occurrence of pain. However, the nature of pain itself differs from individual to individual. Also, headache is usually accompanied by many other symptoms that may help in diagnosing the cause.

  • Pain in the head: All headaches are characterized by one or the other form of pain in the head. The pain may be acute, episodic, or constant. It may be felt all over the head, or in a specific region of the head. It may even change location and radiate from one part to other parts of the head.
  • Sinus pain: In some types of headaches, sinuses may be involved. In sinus headaches, pain and tenderness may be felt on the cheeks, bridge of the nose and forehead. These regions overlie the affected sinuses.
  • Eye pain: Some headaches may be accompanied by pain or pressure in the eyes or in the region surrounding the eyes. Blurred vision, drooping eyelids, teary eyes and sensitivity to light may also be accompanying features of a headache.
  • Tooth pain: Headaches are common in people with tooth abscess and pain.
  • Body pain and fever may also accompany pain in the head.
  • Nausea and vomiting may occur alongside some headaches.
  • Lack of sleep and chronic fatigue may accompany severe or chronic headaches.
  • Head injury, bleeding from ear, and confusion may accompany headaches that are serious and life-threatening.

Also read on headache location.

Migraine headaches usually develop in four stages. The exact symptoms in migraine depends on the stage.

  • Pro-drome: This is the first stage of a migraine attack and occurs a couple of days before the actual attack. The symptoms in this stage are subtle, such as mood changes, constipation, stiff neck, increased thirst, increased food cravings, increased urination, and even frequent yawning. These symptoms warn the person of an impending attack.
  • Aura: Aura refers to disturbances in the nervous system that occur just before or during a migraine attack. This stage is characterized by visual disturbances (such as seeing flashes of light, bright spots of light, various shapes, and vision loss), speech disturbances (such as difficulty in speaking), sensory disturbances (such as pins-and-needles sensation in arms and legs, phantom feeling of being touched, hearing noises, weakness or numbness on one side of the body) and motor disturbances (such as involuntary jerks or movements).
  • Migraine attack: An untreated migraine attack lasts from 4-72 hours. A throbbing pain is felt on one or both sides of the head. This is accompanied by excessive sensitivity to light, noise, smells and touch. Vision may become blurred. The affected individual may feel light-headed, and could also faint.
  • Post-drome: The last stage of the migraine attack is the post-drome, in which the person feels physically drained and weak. Dizziness and confusion may also occur.

Causes of Headaches and Migraines

There are myriad causes of headaches. Based on the cause, headaches are generally classified into two groups: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not symptoms of some other disease. Instead, they arise from hyperactivity of pain-sensitive structures in the head. In contrast, secondary headaches are symptoms of some other disease or condition. Effective treatment of headaches requires a proper diagnosis of the underlying cause.

Causes of primary headaches

  • Cough
  • Exercise
  • Sex
  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Lack of sleep
  • Nitrates in processed foods (such as hot dogs)
  • Skipping meals

Causes of secondary headaches

  • Brain aneurysm
  • Sinusitis
  • Concussion
  • Brain tumor
  • Dehydration
  • Tooth decay
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Middle ear infection
  • Flu
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Panic attacks
  • Stroke
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in foods
  • Pressure from tight head gear
  • Ice cream
  • Excessive use of pain medications
  • Spinal tap

Causes of migraines

Headache Migraine

Migraine is a type of primary headache. The exact cause of migraine is not known. However, several risk factors and triggers of migraine have been observed. The following are some of the risk factors associated with migraines:

  • Genetics: Migraine seems to run in families.
  • Age: Most cases of migraine begin during adolescence and peak during the 30s. Thereafter, migraine attacks become less common.
  • Gender: The majority of migraine cases occur in women. They are three times more likely to suffer from this condition than men.

The following are some of the triggers of migraine:

  • Hormonal changes caused by menstruation, oral contraceptives, and pregnancy
  • Foods and drinks such as salty and processed foods, aged cheese, aspartame, monosodium gluatamate, wine and caffeine
  • Stress caused by work or home pressures
  • Excessive sensory stimulation with bright lights, strong smells, and loud noises
  • Abnormal sleep patterns such as that caused by jet lag
  • Intense physical exertion such as in sports or sexual activity

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