Is It a Regular Headache or a Migraine? How to Tell the Difference

4 min read

A pounding sensation in your head is hard to ignore. Even a mild headache can be disruptive to your day-to-day life, but when the headache is more severe, it can be debilitating. If you experience a severe headache, you may be wondering, do I have a migraine? Is there something else going on? 

There are a few key differences that can help you distinguish between a headache and a migraine headache. 

Types of Headaches

Everyone knows the dull aching or pounding that comes with a headache. But sometimes it’s more than a dull ache. It can also be a sharp pain and in some cases even cause light sensitivity.

Headaches can be broken down by being primary or secondary. A primary headache is one that does not have an underlying cause. Secondary headaches are the result of something else, such as an underlying medical condition. 

Headaches can be felt near the forehead region, temples or sides of the head, or behind the eyes. Common types of headaches include:

  • Tension headaches - primary
  • Cluster headaches - primary
  • Migraine headaches - primary
  • Sinus headaches - secondary
  • Dehydration headaches - secondary

Tension headaches usually range from mild to moderate in pain intensity. Tension headaches are typically described as feeling like a dull ache, pressure, or sensitivity in the neck or scalp. Learn more about preventing tension headaches in our blog. 

Cluster headaches have a cyclical nature, meaning they occur in cycles or clusters. These cycles may last for weeks, months, or a year. 

Sinus headaches and dehydration headaches can usually be resolved by addressing the underlying cause. 

How are Migraines Different from Other Headaches?

Migraines are usually characterized as severe headaches accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. Many people experience symptoms of a migraine before the pain actually begins. Phases of a migraine include: 

  1. Prodrome phase. This may also be called the “pre-headache” phase. This phase involves symptoms like mood swings, food cravings, and neck stiffness. 
  2. Aura phase. An aura is a sensory disturbance such as blurred vision, blind spots, numbness in the arm, and difficulty talking.
  3. Headache phase. This phase is when the pain occurs. Head pain from a migraine can range from mild to severe.
  4. Postdromal phase. Pain goes away during the prodromal phase. You may feel tired, fatigued, or confused as a result. This is sometimes referred to as the migraine hangover phase.

Types of Migraines

There are a couple of different types of migraines. Some examples include: 

  • Hemiplegic migraines. This rare type of migraine can cause numbness and weakness down one side of the body. 
  • Vestibular migraines. Vestibular migraines are associated with balance and motion issues such as spinning, floating, swaying, and lightheadedness. This type of migraine is usually related to a genetic disorder, and it can be triggered by environmental and hormonal influences. 
  • Menstrual migraines. Menstrual migraines occur during a woman’s time of menstruation. Because hormonal shifts can trigger migraines, those associated with menstruation can cause a migraine. 

Headache vs. Migraine: Key Differences

There are a couple of main differences between migraines and headaches. The severity of the pain is one of the best ways to distinguish between the two. Although headaches can definitely be severe, migraines are often debilitating, making it difficult for you to function at all. 

The symptoms of headaches and migraines also vary. Both headaches and migraines are usually associated with pain in the head; migraines have additional symptoms, such as dizziness and vomiting. In addition, migraines can even sometimes occur without a headache component. You may experience only dizziness, vomiting, and sensory disturbances when dealing with a migraine and no headache symptoms. 

Headaches and migraines have some similar triggers, but they also have different ones as well. 

Both headaches and migraines can be triggered by:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Hormonal changes
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress

Triggers that are more specific to headaches include: 

  • Poor posture
  • Strained neck and shoulder muscles 

Triggers that are specific to migraines include: 

  • Genetics
  • Sensory disturbances like light and sound

Read more in our blog: 10 Migraine Triggers to Watch Out For

Headaches and migraines can both interfere with your daily life, so it is important to be aware of triggers and find an accessible treatment approach that works well for you. 

Can a Chiropractor Help if You Have Frequent Headaches?

Many people don’t realize that chiropractic care is a holistic approach to treating headaches and migraines. Headaches are sometimes related to postural issues, and chiropractic adjustments help to align the spine to promote proper posture. 

Migraines are neurological in nature, and chiropractic adjustments help to ensure optimal neurologic function by properly aligning the spine and encouraging effective communication between neurons. For some patients, taking migraine medications causes unwanted side effects. Chiropractic care can potentially help you use less medication to manage or avoid migraines.

Personalized Chiropractic Care for Headaches and Migraines in The Woodlands

There is relief possible for those who have frequent headaches, including migraines. Take note of how often you have them. And if they are primary or likely a secondary headache. This information will help your chiropractor understand any patterns and possible causes.

At Village Chiropractic in The Woodlands, we will review your history and perform a physical exam before recommending a treatment plan. Request an appointment so you can talk with our team and start getting relief.

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