What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?


If you suffer from any type of headache, your main goal may be simply to stop the pain. But knowing more about your headaches can help your healthcare provider treat you most effectively — and may help you prevent them.  

Headaches versus migraines
Headaches are defined as pain and pressure in the head. They can range from mild to severe, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.

Migraines, on the other hand, are an intense, severe type of headache that often have associated symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting.

  • Seeing spots or flashing lights.

  • Temporary vision loss.

  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound.

  • Pain in the temples.
Pain behind one eye or ear.

Although they can cause pain all over the head, migraines typically affect only one side of the head. Migraines can also occur with an “aura,” or certain sensations a person experiences before the migraine attack. These may include difficulty thinking or a feeling of mental dullness, tingling or numbness in the face or hands or having an unusual sense of touch, taste or smell. 

These symptoms may occur as early as a day or two before the actual migraine occurs. But migraines don’t always come with warning, and they can occur at any time. 

Migraine triggers and treatments 
Migraines can be triggered by anxiety, alcohol use, hormonal changes, menopause or the use of contraceptives. When it comes to treating a migraine, prevention is often the best treatment. Diet changes, stress relief and prescription medications to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety or depression can help prevent migraines. 

Some medications may also help ease less frequently occurring migraines, such as anti-nausea medications, mild to moderate pain relievers and triptans (medications that increase serotonin levels in the brain to reduce inflammation and relieve constricted blood vessels).

Is it a migraine or just a headache?
How do you know if your headache pain is a severe headache or a migraine? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Is your pain intense, pulsing or throbbing? 
  • Is your pain felt primarily on one side of the head?
  • Are you experiencing other symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness or difficulty seeing? 

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be experiencing a migraine. 

On the other hand, if your pain feels like a mild or dull pressure throughout the forehead or scalp and you are not experiencing additional symptoms, you may be experiencing a headache. 

If you suffer from frequent or severe headaches (or migraines), your primary care provider can help you find relief. Contact Goshen Physicians Family Medicine today to schedule an appointment.