Migraine or headache: How to recognize the difference



Migraine or headache: How to recognize the difference
If you have ever experienced what it’s like to live a day or two with a severe headache, then you know how exhausting and painful it can be. Daily activities become challenging, going to work becomes a struggle, and the only thing that brings relief is lying in a dark room. However, not all headaches are the same. The symptoms of migraines and tension headaches, for example, differ from each other, so it’s important to learn how to recognize them. In the following, we will share the most important information to help you identify whether you’re dealing with a migraine or a headache.


When you know which type of headache you’re experiencing, it becomes easier to know how to help yourself when it occurs. With a diagnosis from our Headache Center and a discussion with a doctor who can prescribe medication if necessary and provide advice on how to cope with the pain, you will be able to navigate through periods of headaches more easily. That’s why it’s crucial to consult a doctor at the onset of the pain so that they can determine the type of headache based on symptoms and, if necessary, perform additional diagnostics.


Types of headaches and the most common causes for their occurrence


There are many types of headaches, so it is important to pay attention to the symptoms in order to determine the specific type. The nature of the pain and its location can provide valuable clues for identifying the type of headache and its underlying causes. Some of the most common types of headaches include:


  • Tension headaches: The pain in this type of headache typically spreads across both sides of the head. It usually starts at the back of the head and gradually moves forward. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, affecting about two-thirds of the population. They can be triggered by stress, eye strain from computer work, hunger, and can also become chronic.
  • Sinus headaches: These headaches commonly occur when we are sick and experiencing nasal congestion. They are caused by inflammation of the sinus tissues, resulting in pain in the facial areas around the eyes, cheeks, and nose. The pain is usually aggravated when bending forward, and the intensity can be strongest upon waking up in the morning.
  • Cluster headaches: This type of headache is typically very painful and occurs in specific cycles of time, often at the same time every day or multiple times a month. They are caused by the dilation of brain blood vessels and can be triggered by excessive physical exertion, intense light, and changes in altitude.


Migraine – more than just a headache


When most people hear the word migraine, they think of a severe form of headache. However, headache is just one symptom of a migraine, and as such, it can vary in duration and severity of symptoms. Since migraines are associated with neurological disorders or processes related to nerves, it is important to see a neurologist to determine if this is the type of condition you are experiencing.


Changes in brain activity actively affect blood and nearby tissues, thus causing different symptoms. Those who suffer from migraines, in addition to severe headaches, often have some of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to sound, light or smells, dizziness, and extreme fatigue.


Phases that patients with migraines go through


Migraines manifest in four phases, but not all patients have to go through all four phases. Let’s get to know them:


  • Initial phase – sometimes referred to as the pre-headache phase, when the patient experiences non-painful but specific symptoms. Changes in mood, neck stiffness, specific food cravings.
  • Aura phase – in this context, aura should be understood as the inability of a person to use all their senses normally. Migraines affect vision, speech, and touch. Typical examples of aura include blurred vision, decreased visual field or inability to see certain points within that field, numbness in the hand, unclear speech. Fortunately, not all migraine patients experience aura.
  • Headache phase – this is the moment when the headache occurs, and it can vary from moderate to severe. Physical activity, exposure to bright light, sound, or certain smells can worsen the pain. However, some patients have migraines without experiencing this phase.
  • Final phase – this is the last phase of a migraine, where the pain diminishes, but patients still feel intense fatigue, exhaustion, confusion, and generally do not feel well yet.


Causes of Migraine



While we can attribute clear causes to regular headaches, the same cannot be said for migraines. Migraines are triggered by certain factors rather than having a single cause. These triggers can vary from person to person, but some of the most common ones include:


  • Gender and hormonal changes – Women are much more likely to suffer from migraines compared to men. In fact, the chances of women experiencing migraines are three times higher than men. Migraines can be triggered by hormonal changes during the premenstrual period and throughout the menstrual cycle.
  • Allergies – Allergic rhinitis is known to be a trigger for migraines. Allergies can cause irritations and inflammations in the body. Since migraines are associated with inflammation of blood vessels, allergies can be a trigger for migraines in certain individuals.
  • Family history and genetics – Patients with a family history of migraines have a higher likelihood of developing migraines themselves. Scientists have even discovered specific genetic mutations that occur in individuals with the most common type of migraines.
  • Environment and lifestyle – Many migraine triggers come from our environment. Factors such as stress, weather changes, certain foods, odors, and sleep patterns can influence migraines.


For all necessary diagnostics and treatment of headaches and migraines, seek the expertise of the best specialists at Puls Cardiology Center.


To make the life of a patient with frequent headaches easier, it is important to identify the cause of the head pain and initiate treatment. Although headaches can occur in cycles, with periods of relief followed by worsening due to changes in lifestyle and environment, there is a solution for headaches.


Consult our specialists who, with the help of advanced diagnostics, will quickly establish a diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate therapy to alleviate your symptoms. Schedule an appointment at Pulse Cardiology Center in Block A, New Belgrade, and find relief from severe and unpleasant headaches at our Headache Center.

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