Is It Just A Headache or Something More?

Team Bramhansh
Migraelief Migraine Headache pain

This article was reviewed and approved by Bramhansh's Scientific Consultants Team.

Everyone has those days when they wake up and feel a throbbing sensation in their head. Headaches are the most common illness affecting millions of individuals every day. So, the occasional headache you might have is not something to worry about if it subsides within a day with the help of over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol.

But it is very important to be aware of the various types of headaches because there are headaches that are much more severe than mere tension headaches.

Types of Headache

Now, the scientific community has classified the types of headaches based on their causality:

types of headache

If the headaches themselves are the concern and do not have any underlying diseases, they are called primary headaches in which migraine headaches and tension headaches reside.

If these headaches are symptoms of much more severe diseases, they are classified as secondary headaches. These headaches are abrupt in nature, without prior warning or any triggers.

Fortunately, more than 80% of headaches are primary headaches like migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches, or sinus headaches, and they are not life-threatening. 

Even though tension headaches or regular headaches do not have much severity, it is really important to recognize the difference between a normal headache and a migraine headache.

What Happens If Migraine Is Not Treated?

Since identifying a Migraine is crucial to ensure that your day-to-day activities are not affected by misdiagnosing it as just a regular headache, it's important to find a way to distinguish between a tension headache and a migraine headache, as they share various common symptoms.

migraine vs tension headache

Both headaches can start with a pressing pain in the head, and the pain can be felt in the eye, neck, and shoulder region. It is crucial to correctly identify your headache as a migraine or a tension headache, as misdiagnosing a migraine as a regular headache can:

  • Make the headache worse, escalating the pain from moderate to severe.
  • Resulting in ineffective usage of over-the-counter drugs.
  • Disrupt your day-to-day life, affecting your work-life balance.
  • Contribute to the development of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The adverse consequences of misdiagnosing or not treating migraine attacks are well established. Therefore, it is crucial to find effective ways to differentiate between a tension headache and a migraine headache. Proper identification and understanding of these two types of headaches can lead to better management and treatment strategies.

How To Identify Migraine?

Even though there are various common symptoms between regular tension headaches and migraine headaches, the key factors that help distinguish them are the intensity of pain, location of pain, and frequency of occurrence. While both types of headaches can cause discomfort and a throbbing sensation in the head, there are various parameters to consider for successfully diagnosing a migraine.

For some individuals, it is easy to figure out if the headache was a migraine attack or a regular one, as they would have already been warned about the migraine attack in advance through signs that are termed aura. 

Migraine With Aura

Migraine with auras is easily distinguishable from a regular headache since various visual disturbances act as clear symptoms to differentiate it as a migraine. These disturbances include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Partial vision loss in one eye or both eyes
  • Zigzag patterns
  • Trouble speaking

All these symptoms typically last for one hour and occur before the migraine attack. Thus, it is easy to differentiate a migraine headache from a tension headache.

Migraine Without Aura

The challenge lies in identifying the 80% of migraine attacks that are classified as common migraines or migraines without aura. These migraines may resemble tension headaches, and there is a significantly higher chance of them being overlooked as tension headaches compared to migraines with aura.

So, how does one differentiate a migraine from a regular headache?

During a migraine attack, individuals may experience certain symptoms.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraine symptoms include:

  • The intensity of the headache is moderate to severe.
  • In most cases, the headache is unilateral (one-sided), but there are cases where both sides are affected.
  • The duration of the headache can last anywhere from 2 hours to 72 hours.

Apart from these, if your headache is accompanied by any one of the following symptoms, then it is more likely a migraine rather than a tension headache:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or noise

Even though the aforementioned symptoms might overlap with a regular headache, asking the proper set of questions is necessary. The differentiating factor between a normal headache and a common migraine is the level of disability the symptoms can cause in an individual.

Symptoms Of A Regular Headache

Regular headaches can be disturbing, with a sensation of pain tightening around the head, usually felt throughout the forehead, but the severity is mild. Typically, they last anywhere from half an hour to a day.

Symptoms of a regular headache include:

  • Pain throughout the head or on both sides.
  • Mild to moderate intensity of pain.
  • Occurrence of less than 15 times per month.

The key factor is to determine whether the headache is restricting your functionality in day-to-day activities. Migraines stand out from tension headaches in their impact on disabling an individual's daily life. One must self-examine their condition in order to receive the correct diagnosis. This can be achieved by finding answers to questions that assess how disabled you are due to the headache.

Symptoms of a regular headache

To self-examine your condition and obtain an accurate diagnosis, it is essential to answer questions that assess the level of disability caused by the headache. Consider the following indicators:

  1. Sleep disturbances: Do you find yourself constantly tossing around in bed, unable to sleep due to the pain?
  1. Medication effectiveness: If your usual pain reliever, such as paracetamol, fails to alleviate the pain, it suggests a possible migraine.
  1. Sensitivity to light and sound: Do you feel the need to cover yourself with a blanket and close the curtains on a bright morning? Increased sensitivity to light and sound is a strong indicator of a migraine attack.
  1. Sensory irritability: Do you cover your ears or avoid engaging in conversations due to the discomfort they cause?
  1. Physical limitations: Do you struggle to move from one place to another and find yourself frequently holding your forehead? These symptoms should raise suspicion of a migraine attack.

These questions serve as a valuable tool for assessing the impact of headaches on your daily functioning and can assist in determining the intensity of your symptoms, aiding in self-diagnosis.

By staying informed, self-examining your condition, and seeking professional medical advice when needed, you empower yourself to take control of your headaches and work towards finding effective strategies to manage them.

Don't let headaches hold you back; take the necessary steps to prioritize your well-being and regain control over your life.

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