Is that pain in your head just a headache? Or is it a migraine? The differences between the two are massive, but many don’t know the difference.
Most headaches, according to Neurologist, Darrick Alaimo, M.D., are usually muscle tension headaches which can be mild or moderate in their severity. Headaches, due to their more mild pain severity, most people deal with and self-medicate.
Pain associated with headaches is often located in the front or sides of the head, with both sides being affected. “The headache character is more pressure-like, and usually most patients can continue to function despite the headache,” said Alaimo.
Contrary, migraines are much more severe not only with pain, but with the symptoms as well. “Migraine headaches can be preceded by a warning of visual distortion or flashing lights in some patients,” explained Alaimo.
The main difference between migraines and headaches is the severity of pain. Alaimo said that most migraines are moderate to severe in their pain intensity and are typically located on one side of the head and the pains characteristics are either pounding or very sharp—it’s not a dull ache.
With migraines comes a slew of other symptoms. Migraines can be so severe that usual symptoms are nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting. “These headaches usually make it difficult for patients to function in their usual activities or work. Frequently there will be a family history of similar headaches,” explained Alaimo.
“I think that it is rare that patients think they have migraines, and instead have tension headaches,” stated Alaimo.
Alaimo also said that many patients who have migraines don’t fully understand them; therefore, many migraine sufferers will just think it’s a headache when that is not entirely the case. Alaimo blames a lack of education most patients have on the subject.
All’s not lost, though. “Some ways to reduce migraine headaches would be to minimize the changes that might occur in a patient’s daily routine,” said Alaimo. Keeping regular sleep schedules as well as maintaining a regular eating schedule can also aid in reducing the chance of migraines. Other things, such as staying in the same time zone, staying at the same altitude and an increase in exercise are also initiatives Alaimo says will reduce the chance of getting migraines.
Obesity is another factor that can have an effect on migraines and headaches, according to Alaimo. “Obesity is another risk factor for worsening headaches so in those patients losing weight would important,” explained Alaimo.
Alaimo stressed that while taking over the counter pain medications is fine for reducing the pain of migraines and headaches, but they should only be taken two to three days a week. “More frequent use [of over the counter meds] can actually lead to medication overuse headaches, which can become a chronic headache syndrome,” Alaimo explained.
Alaimo emphasized that if patients have recurrent and or irregular headaches or headaches that affect their daily lives with symptoms of dizziness, numbness, loss of vision, double vision or weakness, then that individual needs to see a physician.
If you’re experiencing headaches, consider going to Health Services located in Building 3, room 165 on the Brighton Campus, or consult your physician.
Watch your meds, they can cause headaches, too!
- Medication overuse headaches are caused by excessive and chronic use of pain medication.
- Medication overuse headaches are the second most common diagnosed headache disorders.
- It affects nearly five percent of the population and women are more likely to be diagnosed with medication overuse headaches.
- These headaches occur daily, are persistent and usually start when waking up.
- Information provided by the World Health Organization