migraine or a headache?

Migraine or a headache?

Ouch! Is that throbbing ache in your head just another headache?

When there is pressure or pain in your head, it can be difficult to tell whether you are having just another headache or a migraine attack!

Knowing the difference can be extremely important. It can mean faster pain relief through treatments based on the type of headache and can also help prevent headaches occurring in the first place!

So how can you tell the difference between a common headache and a migraine?

What is a headache?

Headaches are very common, and most people will experience them during their lifetime.  They are the most familiar form of pain and are a major reason for days missed from school or work.

There are many different types of headaches, however, experts have classified them into two main groups:

  • Primary – these refer to conditions that cause pain in the head face or neck. Primary headaches include migraines and tension headaches.
  • Secondary – these occur as a result of another medical condition, such as stress or an infection.

Headaches are pains in your head that can cause pressure and aching. They usually occur on both sides of the head and the pain can range from mild to severe.  A typical headache can last anywhere between five minutes to four hours.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the most common headache type is a tension headache.

Typical triggers include:

  • Bending or straining the neck
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Eyestrain
  • Hunger
  • Jaw clenching
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Arthritis

The pain from a tension headache usually spreads across both sides of the head, often starting at the back and then creeping forwards and feels like a band of intense pressure around the head.

Amazingly, these types of headaches affect around 42 percent of adults worldwide!

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a headache that can cause severe pain. Headaches are only one symptom and causes intense, throbbing pain that can last for a few hours to several days.

A migraine usually affects one side of the head, however, some people experience pain on both sides.

Migraines are extremely common affecting around 1 in every 5 women and approximately 1 in every 15 men, and usually begin in early adulthood.

There are several types of migraine including: –

  • Migraine with aura – this is when there are specific warning signs just before the migraine begins such as:
    • seeing flashing lights, zig zags or unusual lines
    • Feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking
    • Feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands
    • Having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch
    • Nausea
    • Increased sensitivity to light
    • Dizziness
    • Extreme fatigue
  • Migraine without aura – this is the most common type where the migraine happens without any specific warning signs.
  • Migraine aura without headache – this is also known as a silent migraine, where an aura or other symptoms are present but a headache does not develop

Whilst headaches usually have easily traceable causes, migraines have common triggers, but no one cause.  They are thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.

Triggers can vary from person to person and include:

  • Family history – people with family members suffering from migraines are more likely to develop migraines themselves.
  • Gender and hormones – women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. Research has shown that menstrual cycles and changes in hormones are a factor in migraines in women.
  • Allergies – also known as allergic rhinitis, allergies cause irritation and inflammation in the body, migraines are associated with inflammation of the blood vessels making allergies a known trigger for some sufferers.
  • Environmental – this includes a wide range of triggers including:
    • changes in the weather
    • Stress
    • Food
    • Smells
    • Lack of sleep

How to prevent headaches and migraines!

Try keeping a journal to help you track patterns and identify your specific triggers. Write down things like the day and time your headache or migraine began, how long the pain lasted, your surroundings what were you doing before the symptoms started.

This information can help you or your G.P. to create a plan to avoid your triggers and reduce the frequency of any attacks.

Adopting lifestyle changes may also help to prevent some types of headaches and migraines.  These include: –

  • Improving sleeping habits
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga
  • Exercising regularly
  • Making dietary changes to avoid trigger foods

A final note…….

Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lives. Not all headaches are the same as they vary in frequency, severity, and cause.

Correctly identifying a headache or migraine can lead to faster, more effective treatment.

If you would like some further information or to speak to a member of our team please call us on: Hitchin 01462 420077 or Luton 01582 579687, alternatively e-mail us at: or