Headaches versus Migraines


So knowing when to differentiate between a tension headache and a migraine is important. Here are some tips to help you recognize the differences.

How can you tell the difference between the two?

Headaches may occur in your temples, forehead and the back of your neck. They are classified into cluster headaches, tension type, sinus and secondary headaches.

  • Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are daily chronic types of pain that will happen due to liberation of serotonin and histamine. Bright lights, altitude and physical activity may trigger them. Dehydration may cause this type of pain.

  • Tension headaches

These are the most common type of headaches since most people have experienced one throughout their lifetime. Mostly caused by stress, and lack of sleep, affects neck, eyes and forehead.

  • Sinus Headaches

These are caused by a sinus infection or is common in allergic patients that suffer rhinitis.

  • Secondary Headaches

They are due to an external cause such as an injury or another medical problem.  Hangovers, meningitis, medication overuse and due to concussions are some examples of what might cause a secondary headache.


Severe and intense pulsating type of pain in your head that is usually associated with accompanying symptoms like nausea and vomiting, double vision or seeing spots, usually affects one side and its intensity and time period is longer than a headache. Migraines can last for days and are usually intensified by physical activity.

Migraines different from headaches have phases, so if you feel your head pains are more related to migraine type, try to look for these symptoms so that you can avoid having one.

The first phase known as prodrome will include symptoms such as depression, mood swings, constant yawning, and food cravings (mostly chocolate).

The second phase may or may not include an aura. Auras are sensations that warn that a migraine will occur. Usually lasts from 20-60 minutes before the pain starts and are divided into:

  1. Visual auras: These are the most common type and include double vision, photo-sensitivity and seeing flashy lights or dots.
  2. Olfatory auras: People will experience an unusual and not familiar sense of smell. Different types of smell can even trigger a migraine.

Third phase is when the person is experiencing the head pain. Mostly pulsating, affects one side, and is worsened by physical activity.

The fourth phase is called postrdomal. Most people who suffer from migraines feel tired, experience lack of energy, confusion, lack of focus and might be sleepy.

Migraine triggers can include food, such as red wine, and other alcoholic beverages, dairy products, spicy food and chocolate. Other factors associated with them are hormonal changes, contraceptives, menopause, and emotional factors like anxiety.

There isn’t a specific test that will tell you immediately what type of pain you have, but doctors may ask for different tests to exclude external causes. Blood tests, MRI or CAT scans are the most common tools to diagnose between a migraine and headache and choose the appropriate treatment.

Over the counter drugs like ibuprofen, and acetaminophen might help with a headache and a mild migraine. If your pain is severe, always seek medical help for these prescription medicines like NSAID’s,  triptans, blood pressure medicines,  and anti-epileptic drugs.

Certain essential oils might help you decrease your pain like lavender and peppermint, which can be applied to your scalp.