Headaches Vs. Migraines: What’s the Difference?

Health Minute

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Headaches and migraines can both be frustrating to deal with and can interfere with your day-to-day life.

A headache is pain you feel in your head from aching muscles in your scalp and nerves in your face, mouth, and throat.

The most common type of headache is a tension headache, which is caused by tight muscles in the shoulders, jaw, neck, and scalp. Stress, depression, anxiety, and awkward positioning of the head all can lead to a tension headache.

Other types of headaches include:

  • Cluster headaches. Sharp, painful headaches that occur several times a day for months at a time, then goes away for awhile
  • Headaches from other issues. A cold, the flu, a fever, and premenstrual syndrome all can lead to headaches
  • Rebound headaches. These are headaches that keep coming back, often because of overusing pain medicine. These also are known as medication overuse headaches.
  • Sinus headaches. Focused in the face or front of the head, these headaches are caused by swelling the sinus passages in behind the cheeks, eyes, and nose.

Headache specialist Richard Kim, MD, talks about how cluster headaches are treated. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

A migraine is a severe headache that includes intense, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head – often behind one eye or ear, or in the temples.

Migraines sometimes have a group of warning symptoms when the headache starts, and it can get worse as you move around.

If you feel a migraine starting, try the following to help:

  • Drink water to avoid dehydration
  • Find a dark, quiet place to close your eyes and rest
  • Put a cool cloth on your head
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or massaging your temples

To treat a migraine, your doctor might prescribe medication or might recommend lifestyle changes.

Dr. Kim talks about treatment options for migraines.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

When you have a tension headache, you can try to ease the pain with over-the-counter medication, including acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen.

If you end up taking medicine more than three days a week to help with headache pain, talk with your doctor. Overmedicating can cause more headaches or make them worse.

Over-the-counter medications also can cause other issues if you take too many of them or take them for too long. Acetaminophen can cause liver issues if taken for too long, and ibuprofen can cause ulcers if too much is taken.

If you find yourself having repeated headaches or migraines, start keeping a journal to track your symptoms and the time, location, and length of the headaches. This information is important for your doctor to use to help you find what is triggering your headaches and how to treat them.

Visit your doctor to make sure your headaches are not a sign of a more serious problem, if they start after an impact to your head, you have several headaches a month that last hours or days, and you suddenly begin having headaches when you haven’t in the past – or your headaches cause the following issues:

  • Confusion or loss of alertness
  • Convulsions
  • Frequent disruption of daily activities 
  • Nausea, vomiting, vision, or sensory problems
  • Pain around the eyes or ears
  • Stiff neck from headaches

Dr. Kim explains that headaches can be the sign of another illness or disorder. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Whether you have migraines or other types of headaches, talking with your doctor can help you find the best way to treat or manage the pain.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.