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Migraine vs Headache: Symptoms, Differences, & Treatment

written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

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October 3, 2022 Read Time - 5 minutes

Not all headaches are the same. Read on to learn the differences between migraines and non migraine headaches, including differences in symptoms and treatment.

Migraines vs Headaches

Primary headaches include several types of headaches. There are many types of headaches, including migraines, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, hormone headaches, caffeine headaches, and tension headaches.

Typically, migraines are the most severe form of headaches since they cause more physical symptoms. Headaches may be mild to moderate pain, while migraines are moderate to severe pain in addition to other unpleasant bodily symptoms.

Migraine headaches are common and can be extremely disabling. There are episodic (occasional) and chronic (15 or more days per month) migraines. Migraines may be accompanied by an aura (such as seeing flashing lights, tingling sensations, or seeing geometric shapes). These symptoms are often referred to as prodrome, which is a period in which symptoms warn of impending arrival of the migraine. 

Some prodrome symptoms include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Hypoactivity
  • Depression
  • Cravings for particular foods
  • Repetitive yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Neck stiffness or pain

Auras and prodrome symptoms are specific to migraines only and they are your body’s way of notifying you that a migraine is near and to prepare yourself.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

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  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

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Types of Headaches

Chronic daily headaches can be a nuisance and affect about 4% of adults. Chronic daily headaches are more common with those who snore and use caffeine. Chronic headaches may feel like a dull ache in the head. 

Cluster headaches are recurrent, extreme, one-sided headaches. Cluster headaches often center on one eye or temple and last 30-60 minutes. Cluster headaches usually stop abruptly but can then appear again, and then repeat up to 8 times a day.

Tension headaches are common headaches with a lifetime prevalence in the general population ranging up to 78%. Tension headaches are often described as a tight band around the head (pericranial) or a weight on top of it. Movement does not make tension headaches worse, unlike migraines. Neck and shoulder muscles may be tense with tension headaches as well. Tension headaches can be triggered by stress and are sometimes referred to as stress headaches.

Migraine headaches are the most disabling primary headache disorder. Symptoms of migraine headaches include:

  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Pain made worse with movement such as physical activity
  • Sensitivity to light and sound (photophobia and phonophobia)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aura present

While migraine headaches and non-migraine headaches are often described as the same, they possess different symptoms. Here is a chart to distinguish between migraines and non-migraine headaches:

SymptomsMigraineNon-migraine Headaches
Moderate/severe painYesNo
Mild/moderate painNoYes
NauseaYesNo
VomitingYesNo
Aura presentYesNo
PhotophobiaYesNo
PhonophobiaYesNo
Pain on both sides of headYesYes
Pain on forehead or scalpYesYes

Migraines can be caused by emotional anxiety, contraceptives, hormones, and alcohol, while headaches can be caused by emotional stress, caffeine intake, or lack of sleep. People who suffer from migraines often have a combination of other headache symptoms and causes.


Read: Get Migraine Treatment Online


How to Treat a Migraine

Migraine relief can be achieved by avoiding triggers and by treatment at home. Relaxation exercises, meditation, and coping with stress in healthy ways help reduce migraine and headache triggers. If you get a migraine, you can try the following home remedies to ease the pain.

  • Heat therapy, such as applying warm compresses or taking a  warm shower may help ease migraine symptoms. 
  • Migraine head wraps are also available and can be used for hot or cold therapy, whichever is more beneficial for you. 
  • Wearing noise canceling headphones and UV protectant sunglasses may also help light and sound sensitivity that often occurs with migraines. 
  • Essential oil rollers that contain peppermint rolled across your forehead may alleviate some symptoms.

Migraine treatment involves medication and non-pharmaceutical therapies. Medications, both prescription and nonprescription, are available to treat migraine headaches. 

  • Over the counter medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen sodium or ibuprofen may help relieve mild to moderate pain. 
  • Prescription drugs such as almotriptan, rizatriptan, sumatriptan, promethazine, or compazine are used to treat and manage migraine headaches.
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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How to Treat a Headache

Treatment of a headache typically includes medications, relaxation techniques, and trigger reduction. Trigger reduction mostly focuses on stress reduction, avoidance of certain known trigger-foods, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.

Headache treatment online focuses on medical treatment options such as prescription medications. Headaches can be mild to severe and debilitating. It is better to have a treatment plan before a migraine hits. Medications are available online to treat headaches. 

Getting online headache treatment can focus on medication management by completing a consultation with an online doctor. If you suffer from headaches or have already been diagnosed with migraines, speak with one of our doctors today to see what treatment options are available. After you book an appointment, your doctor will determine a personalized headache treatment plan based on your specific symptoms and treatment goals.


Read More About Migraine vs Headache


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients. About. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://headachemigraine.org/about/

International Classification of Headache Disorders. The primary headaches. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://ichd-3.org/

Mayo Clinic. Migraine – Symptoms & causes. Accessed on June 11, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201 

Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. About MHAM. Accessed on June 10, 2021 from https://www.migraineheadacheawarenessmonth.org/about-mham/ 

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