Headaches Vs. Migraine: Differences Worth Knowing

Headaches can be said to have a universal occurrence. Almost everyone has, at some point in their lives or the other, complained of a headache. While most of these headaches do not have serious issues behind them and recuperation is fast, some of the aches like migraine are more complex in nature and need greater attention and treatment. However, before know the treatment for headache or migraine, it is important to distinguish migraine from other forms of headaches. In this current article we will be talking about the differences between the Headache and Migraine, taking into consideration some of the most important factors like its definition, causes, symptoms and treatment.

Difference Between Headache and Migraine Based on Definition:

As the very name suggests, the term headache may be defined as a pain- a dull or sharp throbbing sensation affecting any or all regions of the head. It is a condition that may occur in an isolated form, in a particular region of the head or may radiate to other locations as well.

Headaches Vs. Migraine

Headaches have been broadly categorized into two heads by the International Headache Society-

  • Primary headache- This category of pain is based on the symptoms and includes tension headaches, migraine headache, cluster headaches and the like.
  • Secondary headache- This category of pain is based on the causes and includes headaches associated with injury, stroke, infection, sinus and the like.

Based on the above classification, migraine headache can be said to be a primary from of headache. It typically affects a particular region of the head and is usually accompanied by a feeling of nausea, sensitivity to light, vomiting and the like. Physical exertion is likely to accentuate the problem and lasts typically from 4 to 72 hours.

Difference Between Headache and Migraine Based on Symptoms:

There are some notable differences between Headache and Migraine based on their symptoms.

The manifested symptoms of headache depend on the type of infliction the patient is suffering from. However, all common forms of headaches have certain signs and symptoms in common-

  • An aching, dull pain in a particular region or entire head.
  • A constricted sensation and a feeling of pressure across the forehead or rear portion of the head.
  • A feeling of tenderness in the muscles of the shoulder, scalp and neck.

In case of a migraine, the symptoms manifest themselves according to the four stages in which the disease proceeds-

  • Prodrome- This stage is manifested a couple of days before the actual migraine attack and the patient is likely to suffer from-
  • Aura- This stage occurs before or during migraine headaches and are predominantly defined by certain visual differences though verbal sensory and motor disturbances are not unnatural. A majority of people suffering from migraine do not experience the symptoms related to aura, however, people suffering from them may manifest-
    • Temporary loss of vision
    • Aphasia or problem in speech
    • Visualizing flashes of light
    • Sensations of pin pricks in the arms and legs
  • Attack- Migraine headaches as stated early are likely to last up to 72 hours and this stage is accompanied by the following symptoms-
    • Throbbing or pulsating ache in one or both sides of the head
    • A feeling of nausea and vomiting
    • A feeling of lightheadedness, which may also lead to fainting
    • Foggy vision
  • Postdrome- The final phase of Migraine headache is accompanied by a feeling of exhaustion and weariness.

Difference Between Migraine and Headache Based on Causative Factors

Now, coming to the causes, we can differentiate between Headache and Migraine in the following way. Regular headaches can be a result of a number of factors, depending on the category of headache-

  • Primary headache (including migraine) – The causative factors behind primary form of headaches may be attributed to the following-
    • Hyperactivity in the structures of the head prone to pain
    • Chemical imbalances in the brain, blood vessels or nerves in the external area of the skull or in the muscles of the neck and head
    • Genetic factors
  • Secondary headache- The causative factors leading to secondary headache may be listed as-
    • Vertebral or carotid dissections in the arteries, giant cell arteritis
    • Acute sinusitis
    • Venous thrombosis in the brain, aberrant formation of blood vessels, brain aneurysm, structural complication at the base of the skull, encephalitis, intracranial hematoma, trigeminal neuralgia, pseudo tumor cerebri and other such complications in the brain and head region.
    • Other physical disorders such as, dental problems, glaucoma, toxoplasmosis, dehydration, concussion, ear infections, influenza, meningitis, post-concussion syndrome, panic attacks and the like.
    • Medication factors such as, excessive use of painkillers.
    • Other factors such as, hangovers, pressure exerted due to tight-fitting headgear, carbon monoxide poisoning.

The causative factor behind migraine headache cannot be pointed out with certainty. However, certain conditions have been identified which may be attributed as being the causative factors behind migraine-

  • Environmental factors and genetics
  • Disproportion in chemicals present in the brain- This includes change in the serotonin level, the pain regulating substance in the nervous system.
  • Migraine triggers- There are certain factors that act as a sort of trigger and incite an attack of migraine. These triggers include-
    • Food, such as, old cheese, alcohol, especially wine, additives such as glutamate, aspartame and the like. Irregular food habits may also act as trigger in certain cases.
    • Change in the estrogen levels in women
    • Change in the sleep and wake pattern
    • Anxiety and trauma.

Difference Between Headache and Migraine Based on Treatment and Prevention

As far as treatment is concerned, regular headaches hardly require any form of specialized treatment and get reconciled of their own accord. Certain healthy and positive changes in lifestyle prove to be quite effective in this direction-

  • Acupuncture
  • Mobilization and joint manipulation of the neck
  • Leading a stress-free lifestyle
  • Following a healthy diet
  • Controlled drinking and abhorring smoking.

In the case of treatment for migraine, things are however, more complicated as the disease cannot be completely cured. Hence, attempts are made to control it and minimize the effects of the Migraine. Medications, prescribed to migraine patients are basically categorized into two groups-

  • Pain-relieving Medication- This category of medicine to treat migraine includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirins, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, triptans such as, sumatriptan, rizatriptan, naratriptan, eletriptan and the like, ergotamine and the like. Certain anti-nausea drugs such as, metoclopramide, prochlorperazine , chlorpromazine are also prescribed.
  • Preventive Medication- These generally aids in the reduction of intensity of pain of migraine, frequency of migraine attacks and severity. Cardiovascular drugs, such as Beta-blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs and the like are often prescribed under this category.

Both migraine and common type of headaches may be prevented by certain medications and changes in lifestyle. Exercising regularly, avoiding triggers and other such measures can also go a long way in the prevention of headache.


No matter what may be the cause or how minimal the seriousness of the pain may be of headache or migraine, it is good to visit and consult a doctor with the approach of any kind of signs or symptoms so as to keep away from the danger of any complex issues.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 28, 2019

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