December 8, 2022 by Tammy Howell
Many Americans suffer from both headaches and migraines, but what is the difference?
This post will help you differentiate headaches from migraines, and alleviate your symptoms.
If you suffer from regular headaches, schedule an appointment today at North Country HealthCare!
The Global Burden of Disease study identified headache disorders as a leading public health concern in most countries. In 2019, the study ranked migraines as the second leading cause of disability among all adults, and first among women under 50. In the U.S., over 37 million people suffer from headaches, but less than 5% have received proper diagnosis and care.
Most patients cannot tell the difference between a migraine and a headache, so they dismiss their symptoms as just a headache and not a more serious condition. At North Country HealthCare, we believe in the importance of educating the public about migraines to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment. This article looks at migraines and how to differentiate them from occasional headaches, as well as how to talk to your provider about what you need to live pain-free.
To most people, migraines are more intense than headaches. However, it is possible to have a migraine without head pain. Distinguishing between a headache and a migraine can help you seek treatment at the right time, in the right ways.
Headaches are classified into two groups — primary and secondary headaches. A primary headache is one caused by an independent condition. Migraines and tension headaches are examples of primary headaches. Secondary headaches occur as a result of an infection, drug overuse, stress or other factors affecting the body.
You can tell a migraine from a headache by assessing whether the pain is a result of a primary or secondary headache. If you can determine the cause of your headaches, it is most likely not a migraine.
A migraine is a primary headache that presents with moderate to severe head pain, usually occurring on one side of the head. Other symptoms of migraines include:
Although it is possible for children to experience a migraine, most migraines begin in early adulthood. Migraine episodes occur in four phases. Patients may experience all four stages or less.
Phase 1 — prodrome: The person experiences painless symptoms before the beginning of the migraine. The symptoms, which may include food cravings, mood swings or a stiff neck, occur hours before the migraine fully sets in.
Phase 2 — aura: In this phase, people often complain of sensory disturbances. The person may experience blurred vision, blind spots, slurred speech or numbness in the arms, as well as instabilities in their hearing.
Phase 3 — head pain: This phase is characterized by a throbbing pain in one side of the head. Although headaches are a common symptom of migraines, some people may not experience this phase.
Phase 4 — postdrome: Occurring after the headache has subsided, people often report a feeling of exhaustion, confusion or general body weakness.
Since people may not experience every migraine phase, particularly the aura phase, there are different types of migraines, which include:
While you can usually tell the cause of a headache, migraines have triggers instead of causes. Common migraine triggers include:
Although there isn’t a cure for migraines, medication and lifestyle changes may help reduce the intensity and frequency of episodes. Simple things, such as turning off the lights, a warm or cold compress to your head, or sipping a caffeinated drink might also help alleviate symptoms in the short term.
If you only suffer from occasional migraines, over-the-counter medication may help alleviate the pain and symptoms. According to the American Migraine Foundation, several over-the-counter medications can help, such as:
If the intensity and frequency of migraine episodes are high, over-the-counter medications may not be enough. Your doctor can prescribe medication that helps reduce the severity and frequency of the episodes.
A lifestyle change could be the best migraine treatment and prevention option. Here are some changes in your lifestyle that may help.
It is not enough to classify types of headaches on your own. If you occasionally experience headaches, getting a diagnosis is the first step to proper care for migraines. Before your next appointment, try to keep a log of how often you experience a headache or migraine; what are your symptoms; and what are some triggers you’ve observed. This will help your provider work with you to help alleviate your discomfort and work toward a permanent solution. All of our primary care providers provide comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for headaches and migraines. Contact us today to book an appointment.
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