Headache or Migraine? Know the Difference

Apr, 2021 - by CMI

Headache or Migraine? Know the Difference

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, over half a quarter of adults aged 18-65 years reported headaches and over 30% of individuals from the same age-group  experienced migraine.

Every individual at some point of his/her day-to-day life experience a pulsating pain in the brain along with a high pressure behind the eye section, which leads an individual to lie down to stabilize this unexpected discomfort. Most of the individuals might perceive it as a headache, is it? Let’s find it out.

Generally, when individuals suffer from severe pain in their heads, it is difficult to guess whether it is a headache or a migraine unless diagnosed. Understanding the difference between a common headache and a migraine is very crucial for every individual, as early detection will pave a way for better treatment of this condition.

What is a Migraine?

It is a common type of headache disorder, which can cause acute pain along with several symptoms such as blurred vision, severe pain in the head, and vomiting. Migraine headache is a chronic condition with unknown evidence for its occurrence. The normal headaches are just one of the symptoms of migraine, which can vary in length and severity. Migraine can cause throbbing and intense headaches which can last from a few hours to several days.

As per the report from the World Health Organization (WHO), migraine is a disorder that affects about one in every 100 women every year. Migraine is also known as ‘mystery headache’ because many people have different views on its cause and treatment. Migraines normally produce much more painful and intense symptoms than other headaches. Some forms of migraine such as silent (painless) migraines do not even cause severe head pain, though. Common examples of primary migraine include tension-type headaches and migraine headaches caused by stress.

Migraine can be triggered by a number of different factors including hormonal changes, food sensitivities, fungal infections, psychological stress, and gelatin found in some foods. It is believed that migraine is a result of several factors that lead to cause a typical migraine headache disorder. Migraines can be prevented by eliminating foods that can trigger an attack.

Migraine is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and frequency, with the inclusion of genetic factors. If a patient has a family history of migraine, then it enhances the patient’s chances of suffering from migraines too. Migraines can be prevented and controlled through a variety of methods and treatments including medications, lifestyle changes, and dietary modifications. Some ways to avoid migraine headaches include: reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine in one's diet, avoiding environmental factors such as bright sunlight, change in barometric pressure that may trigger a migraine attack, and using self-help techniques such as imagery relaxation and positive affirmations. Migraine is most common in adults aged 65 and above, but may occur at any age. Migraine can be diagnosed through a blood test that monitors serotonin levels in the body, and through physical exam. In some rare cases, migraine can be caused by a tumor or brain aneurysm. But the vast majority of migraines are caused by a single symptom of head pain.

Contrastingly, a mere headache is not a sign of the underlying disorder, but it occurs due to over-activity of brain chemicals, blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. Factors causing headaches can be depression, stress, weather changes, or an injury.

 The symptoms of migraine include:

  • Pain behind a single eye or an ear
  • Occurrence of severe pain in the brain
  • Not able to withstand sound or light intensity
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden vomiting
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Interim vision loss

The occurrence of these symptoms in a repeated form is called an attack or an episode of this disorder.

The intensity of pain in migraine headache varies from moderate to severe, when compared with other types of headache. Occurrence of a migraine with severe pain can make it difficult for a person to perform daily tasks. In rare cases, the person with severe migraine pain is required to be admitted into the emergency room. Although, the migraine headaches will often impact only one side of the head, but in some cases it can influence both sides of the head.

Usually, the migraine headaches are segmented into two categories:

  • migraine headache with aura
  • migraine headache without aura

This ‘aura’ relates to the effects of a migraine that an individual suffers. These effects can be experienced by an individual about half an hour prior to an attack of migraine. These effects are:

  • Loss of sense such as taste, touch, or smell
  • Difficulty in thinking or loss of mental awareness
  • Sighting blurred lines
  • Experiencing paresthesia temporarily

Prior to the occurrence of an actual migraine, the individuals are said to be in a postdrome stage, in which they might experience some early symptoms up to two days before the migraine occurs. These symptoms include:

  • Yawning frequently
  • Irritations
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Mental stress
  • Feeling hungry continuously
  • Phases of Migraine

Migraines occur in four different phases such as pre-monetary phase, aura phase, headache phase, and postdrome phase.

There are many different kinds of migraine phases that people experience. Some people have them once and some get them several times a month. If an individual has been suffering with a migraine headache for any length of time, then he/she probably knows what each migraine phase looks like. The only way to really find out what the different phases unless diagnosed so that people can relate to them more accurately.

The first phase, the showing of pain, usually lasts for about an hour. This is the period right after the initial migraine attack has occurred. During this time individuals can experience neck pain, light sensitivity, double vision, and sometimes nausea or vomiting. Some people might also feel weakness in their facial muscles, blurred vision, or have a feeling that they might pass out.

After the initial onset of the pain, the next phase is called the rebound stage. This is the period right after suffering person might have another bout with the migraine headache. A person may experience a few more symptoms during this second wave of attacks. Some of these different symptoms may include a watering of the eyes, double vision, tingling sensation in fingers, difficulty breathing, a sensitivity to light, and feelings of fatigue or dizziness. It is important to remember that these migraines often last for days, and in some cases, weeks. Each individual might start to experience one or more of these symptoms during every migraine attack.

  • Triggers of Migraine

Multiple factors are related to the individuals who have experienced migraines, which are known as migraine triggers and can include:

  • Alcohol
  • Menopause
  • Birth control
  • Depression
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Genetic Legacy

If the family members of an individual with migraine headache condition have a history of some headache disorders of migraine condition, then it is likely that this condition has been passed on genetically to this individual. This is due to migraine-causing abnormalities in the brain that are found to be inherited to the lateral generations. About 80% of migraine suffering patients have a family with a history of this chronic disorder.

  • Common Headaches

Narrowly defined, a headache occurs in one or both sides of the head and sometimes involves pain from the upper face or jaw. The usual painkillers for headaches, which come in over-the-counter forms, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Prelin), and naproxen (Naprosyn), which can reduce pain but do not treat the causes of headache. Pain-sensitive brain structures and parts in the face, ears, eyes, and jaw are part of what helps to perceive and understand the meaning of a headache.

Headaches, more commonly known as sinus headaches, involve malfunctioning of blood vessels in the brain. When blood vessels in the brain do not receive enough oxygen or nutrients to perform their functions properly, they leak blood, causing headaches. Headaches are often felt on one side of an individual’s head, but some also feel like pulsing or throbbing. Headaches can become more frequent when the body is suffering from stress. Headaches are also related to feelings and emotions, as they are felt when individuals are sad, happy, scared or anxious.

Doctors can offer the usual pain killers, but there are other things to try. A consultation with the doctor will determine what other treatment options are available. Sometimes medicines alone do not cure headaches, so the doctor might suggest a therapy called biofeedback. Using EEG (electroencephalogram) test, the doctor can monitor the activity of the pain-sensing nerves in an individual’s head, which may be the cause of the headache. With biofeedback, the doctor can teach patients how to control their breathing, thereby relieving their headache pain.

  • Treatment

Scientifically, there is no particular treatment for migraines and headaches, but following a healthy lifestyle and consuming prescribed medications can substantially reduce the incidence of this disorder and avoid future occurrences.

Moreover, living a healthy lifestyle can aid in avoiding several types of migraines and headaches such as:

  • Regular exercises
  • Enough sleep
  • Avoiding junk foods
  • Undergoing massage and heat therapy
  • Developing a habit of yoga and meditation

Hence, before disguising the pain as just another headache, understanding the main differences between migraines and headaches is vital. Identifying these differences will enable migraine-suffering people to receive early treatment to relieve the pain quickly and can prevent future pain.