Headache vs Migraine: What's The Difference?

Sometimes the pain felt from a headache could be similar to a migraine. Many people cannot differentiate between these two conditions and might mistake a severe headache as a migraine. It's vital to know the difference between each of them to take the right treatment for a quick recovery. Although their symptoms could seem similar, minor differences can tell you whether it's a headache or a migraine.


Unlike common headaches, migraines affect the blood and tissues of the brain via changes in brain activity. People suffering from migraines may also experience nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue, or increased sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. According to a migraine specialist from the Pain Relief Center, can occur in four different phases, defined as prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. Some individuals experience all phases, while others experience one or two of them. 

The first phase is the prodrome phase, also known as the pre-headache phase as it occurs before the migraine. Symptoms of the prodrome phase include mood swings, stiffness of the neck, and food cravings. The aura phase can occur right before a migraine and continue during the episode itself. It affects a person's vision, hearing, taste, or smell. Not everyone suffering from migraine may experience this phase, but those who do, experience blurred vision that lasts for hours or numbness in the arm. The headache phase occurs when the migraine hits and pain is felt. Although the level of pain differs from one person to another, many people experience severe headaches that get worse when exposed to light or noise. The final phase of a migraine is the postdrome phase; this is when the pain has settled on one side of the brain. You might feel exhausted or confused during this phase.


The main way to know the difference between a headache and a migraine is by identifying the location and nature of the pain being felt. There are three types of common headaches; tension, sinus, and cluster headaches. Tension headache is the most common headache and usually comes from stress, hunger, or eye strain. You can feel pain on both sides of the head, which sometimes starts at the back and spreads to both sides.

When you're sick and the sinus passage is swelling, you might have a sinus headache. Symptoms may involve pain felt behind the cheek, nose, and eyes. This type of headache usually gets worse when you bend forward. Cluster headaches have similar symptoms to migraines, where the pain felt is severe and involves one side of the head. However, unlike a migraine, it comes in clusters, meaning that you experience cycles of headaches daily and usually at the same time. Cluster headaches are usually a result of vasodilation in the blood vessels of the brain. 

You have to try and analyze every tiny thing you feel. Paying attention to your symptoms could tell you whether you are suffering from a headache or a migraine. However, if you're experiencing severe pain and you're unable to differentiate between them, a visit to your local doctor is recommended.

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