The Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine

Let’s face it: all headaches stink. Whether it’s a dull ache in the back of the head, a stabbing sensation in the forehead or throbbing on one side, no one wants pain in their head.

There are different kinds of headaches—tension, cluster, sinus, and thunderclap headaches all have their own distinct characteristics and causes. As you might imagine, a sinus headache accompanies a sinus infection and results from pressure inside the nasal passages. Thunderclap headaches have very fast onset and can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Anyone experiencing severe, sudden head pain should consult a physician immediately.

Distinguishing a Migraine

Migraine headaches are different in a variety of ways. While other types of headaches can vary from light to severe, migraines are rarely anything but severe, and they often interfere with performing ordinary daily tasks. Migraines also don’t respond as well to over-the-counter analgesics, like aspirin, compared to more conventional headaches types.

Migraines typically hurt on one side of the head and are accompanied by a throbbing or pounding sensation. The problem with identifying migraines is that tension headaches sometimes present the same symptoms.

Aura Migraines

Aura migraines present a series of seemingly unrelated symptoms in the minutes or hour before the onset of the pain. Individuals suffering aura migraines can feel confused, experience tingling or numbness in their face, notice alterations in their sense of smell and taste and see flashing lights or lines across their vision.

Although these are cause for concern, they also offer a warning about an oncoming migraine, allowing someone experiencing these symptoms to take precautions against a migraine. That might include having pain medication ready, setting aside a dark, quiet place to retreat, and warning others about the impending attack.

Precursors or Accompanying Symptoms of Migraines

Some migraine sufferers experience frequent yawning, neck stiffness, constipation and unusual food cravings a day or two before the attack. When these feelings begin, it is a red flag for the onset of a migraine.

Migraines are sometimes accompanied by symptoms that don’t typically come with ordinary headaches. These symptoms include nausea, sensitivity to light and worsening pain with movement.

Doctors may recommend patients keep a diary to help identify triggers leading to the onset of a headache. Migraines appear to have some unique triggers, like the consumption of red wine, chocolate and peanut butter; menstruation or pregnancy; and weather changes.

No one knows for sure what causes a migraine, but it’s believed that constricted blood flow in the brain may be a cause.

A Totally Different Headache Type

A similar selection of symptoms can be caused by TMD, disorders of the joints that connect the jaw to the head. Doctors may misdiagnose TMD as migraines, and treat patients without much success for years. Patients with TMD often report throbbing head pain, often on one side, ringing or buzzing in the ears and popping in the TM joint.

Anyone who suffers ongoing headaches that resist a cure should consider visiting a dentist who can examine the jaw and, at the very least, rule out TMD. If it turns out TMD is the cause, dentists have techniques at their disposal to cure or significantly reduce the underlying cause.