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How Would You Know If It Is A Migraine Or A Headache?

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We all have experienced an annoying headache at some point in time. Head pain is an unpleasant bursting sensation that makes the person feel uneasy. It usually hampers the daily chores, leaving the person totally helpless unless he/she resorts to pop a painkiller and resume work. Some of the most common areas affected by a headache include the forehead, temples, and back of the neck. A migraine too is one of the common types of headaches.

However, not many people are aware of the key difference between a headache and migraine. If you get a headache after a late night of sleep or due to office stress, it could most probably be a tension headache. But if you get a headache due to changes in weather or if you experience a throbbing pain only on one side of the head, it could most probably indicate a migraine headache.

If you are still confused about how to know if a headache is a migraine headache or a tension headache, then here is a detailed explanation about how a migraine headache is different from a tension headache.

1. Intensity

The intensity of pain is much higher in a migraine in comparison to a tension/cluster headache. While migraines are typically associated with severe throbbing pain in the forehead, or temples or behind the eyes, only on one side of the head, whereas a headache can affect the overall head.

2. Prominent Accompanying Symptoms

The only symptom of a tension headache is head pain in any part of the head, unlike, in case of a migraine in which the person may also experience accompanying symptoms such as;

-Sensitivity to light, noise, conversation, odors

-Dizziness

-Nausea and Vomiting

3. Common Triggers  

Almost everyone with a migraine headache has one or more triggers. In most cases, a tension headache is triggered by stress, hunger, sleeplessness or eye strain. However, in case of a migraine, there can be multiple causes and triggers. Some of the most common triggers for a migraine headache are:

-Hormonal irregularities

-Allergies

-Stress

-Lack of sleep

-Changes in weather

Sudden temperature fluctuations

Irregular periods

Missing meals

Bright lights or sunlight

Strong smell of perfumes

Cigarette smoke

Foods like chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, banana, onions, dairy products, and pickled foods

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4. Duration and Relief Time 

A usual headache can be resolved within a few hours while a migraine takes no less than 2-3 days to resolve. A migraine often occurs in phases during which the person may experience warning signs and symptoms. However, this does not hold true in case of a usual headache.

5. Treatment

A cluster or a tension headache usually settles down with over the counter medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen within a couple of hours. Though not debilitating, but they can be very uncomfortable. Whereas, a migraine is difficult to treat and manage. In most cases, regular pain killers offer no relief in migraines and you usually need a multidisciplinary approach which includes regular medication and lifestyle modifications to prevent complications.

A Migraine Headache: When To See A Doctor?

Most people suffering from a migraine headache tend to suffer in silence either by lying in bed or popping a painkiller. However, it is a bad idea to ignore a migraine headache as it can make your condition worse.

It is always a good idea to consult a doctor, especially if you are not aware of the cause of a headache and if it is interfering with your day-today-activities. Your doctor may start you on medicines to prevent further attacks of a migraine headache. For a headache that occur occasionally, you can take pain-relieving medicines like paracetamol and medicines to relieve nausea and vomiting. However, it is advised to not self-medicate but consult a doctor.

You should see a doctor immediately:

-If you get 3 or more attacks in a month

-If your pain is moderate to severe

-If your pain interferes with your daily routine

-If a headache is characteristic with an unusual pain

– If you self-medicate most often than not

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Tips To Deal With A Migraine Headache

If you have a headache that is moderate to severe in intensity, interferes with your daily routine, is associated with intolerance to light and/or noise, nausea or vomiting, you probably have a migraine. It can last from 6 – 48 hours. Some people can have warning signs (aura) before an episode of migraines such as flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in arm or leg.

There are few simple tips that can help you to fight a migraine headache rather than suffer in silence. These are:

-Identify your triggers and try to avoid them.

–Get enough sleep.

-Exercise regularly

-Avoid skipping meals and eat small frequent meals throughout the day

-Stay well hydrated. Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily

-Avoid stress. Try muscle relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga

-Keep a headache diary. It will help you learn about what triggers your migraines and what treatment is most effective

-Take your medications as advised by your doctor.

Recommended Reads:

Types Of Headache And When To Go To A Doctor

Troubled By Frequent Headaches? Try These 5 Home Remedies Right Away!

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