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Headache vs Migraine: Understanding the Difference

A typical headache and a migraine are hard to differentiate. When you feel pain in your head, you may have trouble telling whether it is a migraine or a headache. It is important to know the differences between both.

Understanding the differences can mean faster treatment and relief. It may also prevent future recurrences. The question now is, how can you tell the difference between a migraine and a typical headache? This will be explained in this article.


What is a Headache?

Headaches are painful sensations in your head that cause aching and pressure. The severity of the pain ranges from mild to moderate, and severe. Headaches usually occur in the temples, forehead, and back of the neck. A typical headache may last between 30 minutes to 7 days. Tension headache is the most common kind of headache. Some of the factors that may cause a tension headache include muscle strain, stress, and anxiety.


There are other types of headache including:

  • Cluster Headaches. Cluster headaches are usually very painful. They are felt in one side of the head and occur in clusters. This implies that your headache may occur in cycles, followed by periods where you feel relief.
  • Chiari Headaches. The primary cause of a Chiari headache is Chiari malformation, which is a kind of birth defect. In Chiari malformation, the skull presses against some parts of the brain, resulting in pain in the back of the head.
  • Sinus Headaches. Sinus headaches are often mistaken for migraines. Most sinus headaches accompany sinus infections, and symptoms of sinus infections include congestion, cough, stuffy nose, facial pressure, and fever.
  • Thunderclap Headaches. A thunderclap headache is often severe and develops within a minute. It is usually a symptom of a serious, underlying medical condition like a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Other conditions that may cause a thunderclap headache include a stroke, aneurysm, or other injuries.

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are severe or very intense headaches. They are usually accompanied by other symptoms apart from the pain. Common migraine symptoms include:

· Pain behind an ear or an eye

· Nausea

· Pain in the temples

· Vomiting

· Very high sensitivity to sound and/or light

· You may start seeing flashing lights or spots

· Temporary loss of vision

Migraine may be moderate to severe, as compared with other types of headaches. In some cases, the headaches may be so severe that the affected person has to seek emergency care. most migraine headaches affect only one side of the head. Sometimes, one may experience a migraine that affects the two sides of the head.

The quality of pain is another factor to consider. The pain from a migraine headache is usually very intense. It throbs and makes it difficult for the affected person to perform his/her daily tasks.

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Migraines Might Present with an Aura

There are two categories of migraine headaches:

· Migraine with an aura

· Migraine without aura

Aura is that “feeling” or “sensation” that a person experiences before a migraine. The aura may come between 10–30 minutes before a migraine attack. Examples of auras include:

· Mental fatigue

· Inability to think clearly

· Seeing unusual lines or flashing lights

· A numbing or tingling sensation in the hands or face

· Possessing an unusual sense of taste, touch, or smell


Migraines Symptoms May Occur Before the Actual Attack

Sometimes, the symptoms of a migraine may be experienced one or two days before the actual attack occurs. This pre-attack phase is called the prodrome phase. Signs of the prodrome phase include:

· Depression

· Constipation

· Stiffness in the neck

· Irritability

· Frequent yawning

· Unusual cravings for food

What Triggers a Migraine?

Migraine triggers are those factors that are associated with a migraine headache. They usually cause the onset of a migraine. Examples include:

· Alcohol

· Contraceptives

· Emotional anxiety

· Menopause

· Hormonal changes

· Foundational Shift


Traditional Treatment for Headaches vs Migraines

Headache Treatment

Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medicines and relaxation techniques. Common over-the-counter medications include:

· Ibuprofen

· Aspirin

· Acetaminophen

Some relaxation techniques can also help to reduce headaches, as well as the risk for headaches in the future. Examples of such relaxation techniques include:

· Relaxation exercises

· Massage

· Neck stretching

· Meditation

· Heat therapy like a warm shower or application of a warm compress

Preventative Care for Headaches & Migraines

Prevention is the best option for migraine headaches. Some good preventive methods include:

· Reduce stress

· Dietary changes, such as elimination of foods that are known to trigger headaches. Foods in this category include caffeine and alcohol.

· Foundational Correction using Upper Cervical Chiropractic care.


Foundational Correction & Headaches vs Migraines

In my office, we utilize state-of-the-art equipment to determine the presence of a Foundational Shift of the upper cervical spine (top of the neck), which is typically the underlying cause of a headache or migraine that you may be experiencing.

Dr. Brett Berner explaining the Foundational Difference and headaches.

To further understand the nature of a Foundational Shift, consider that if a house has a poor foundation, you may find it leads to cracks in the walls, windows that do not close correctly, and floorboards that creak.

As opposed to just treating the secondary condition (symptom), we use Foundational Correction to fix the primary condition (the cause of the issue).

One may choose to continuously address these individual issues (symptoms) by filling in the cracks, lubricating the windows, and hammering another nail on the floor. However, the reality is that these individual issues will likely continue recurring until the underlying cause (foundation) is corrected.

Early Examination is Important

Headaches vary in severity. Some headaches may be mild while others may be very severe and extremely debilitating. Don’t wait for them to get worse.

A headache is not an Aspirin deficiency.

Early examination and correction are vital for optimal health and wellness. This will minimize the chance of a recurrence so you can have a better quality of life.

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