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Migraines vs. Headaches: Difference Between Them



Migraines and headaches are both common afflictions that can cause a great deal of discomfort. While they share some similarities, they are two different conditions. So, what’s the difference between them? The answer is not as simple as you might take it to be. 

Migraines are often characterised by severe pain, light sensitivity, and nausea. They can last for hours or even days and sometimes occur with no apparent trigger. On the other hand, headaches are usually less intense and may be caused by tension, dehydration, or eye strain. Most headaches will go away independently, but migraines often require treatment.

Wait, that’s not it. Learn more about the key differences between migraine and headaches, including their symptoms and causes here. We’ll also share some tips for how to manage each condition. Keep reading to learn more!

What is a Headache? 

A headache typically is a pain felt in the head. Headaches are prevalent and affect people of all age groups. It can be mild or severe and last for a few minutes or several days. Although headaches can be caused by many things, such as stress, allergies, or sinus congestion, the most common type of headache is tension headaches.  

Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications. More severe headaches may require prescription medications. Getting adequate rest, exercising regularly, and managing stress levels can help to prevent headaches.

There are generally three types of headaches: 

  • Tension 
  • Cluster
  • Sinus


Tension headaches, the most common type, feel like a tightness or pressure around the forehead or back of the head and are often associated with stress or muscle fatigue. 

The pain from a tension headache usually starts at the back and creeps forward. It can be difficult to treat because it's not always easy to identify what causes them, but you may find relief by avoiding certain triggers such as stress or hunger!


Cluster headaches are relatively rare but tend to recur in “clusters” or cycles; they cause excruciating pain on one side of the head, often around the eye, and are accompanied by redness of the eye and tearing. 

Though it is not well understood, cluster headaches may be caused by an overactive serotonin and histamine release from a nerve ending in the eye. They usually occur during "clusters"--daily or weekly episodes of pain that tend to come on with no warning whatsoever. 


Sinus headaches result from inflammation of the sinuses (the cavities around the nose) and cause pain in the forehead, cheeks, or bridge of the nose; they are often worse when one bends over or when pressure changes occur (e.g., during aeroplane descent). 

The pain of a sinus headache is often worse when you wake up in the morning and bend forward. You may also experience these headaches while sick or feeling congested. 

Treatment of Headaches 

When it comes to headaches, there are many possible causes and treatments. Several different medications can be used to treat headaches, including both over-the-counter and prescription options such as: 

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen

One of the most common types of headaches is tension headaches, which are often caused by stress or muscle tightness. These can often be treated with ice packs and relaxation techniques such as:

  • Massage
  • Neck stretching
  • Heat therapy
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation exercises

What is a Migraine? 

A migraine is a throbbing, severe headache accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines often result in a loss of productivity due to the pain and associated symptoms.

Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder that affects approximately 10% of people worldwide. Migraine attacks can remain from 4 hours to 3 days. Most people with migraine can experience some relief with medication. Some people may need to see a doctor for more tests and treatment.

It is three times more common in women than men and typically manifests as episodes of severe head pain accompanied by other symptoms, such as: 

Causes of Migraine

A migraine is a headache that can cause a throbbing sensation, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Although the exact cause of migraines is unknown, several theories exist about what may trigger them. One theory suggests that migraines may be caused by changes in the brainstem and its interaction with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. 

Another theory suggests that migraines may be triggered by changes in the levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin. Some research also suggests that migraines may also be genetic. If you have a family member suffering from migraines, you may be more likely to experience them. While the exact cause of migraines remains a mystery, understanding potential triggers can help you to avoid them.

Treatment of Migraine

The pain of migraine headaches is often described as throbbing or pulsing and can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities. 

Although there's no cure for migraine, treatments can help relieve the pain and other symptoms. Some people find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Other people may need prescription medications such as anti-nausea medications to prevent or treat migraines. Some of these medications are designed to relieve pain, while others are designed to prevent migraines from occurring in the first place. 

In some cases, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes may be necessary to treat migraines effectively. If you're struggling to find relief from your migraines, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Parting Words

Migraines and headaches are both common and must be treated right. If you’re experiencing pain in your head, you must know what type of headache you have to get the proper treatment. 

We hope this article has helped clarify the difference between migraines and other types of headaches. Have you been struggling with recurring headaches? Don’t suffer any longer – talk to your doctor today about getting a diagnosis and finding relief.

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