Migraines vs. headaches

Migraines vs. headaches

Almost everyone has experienced the painful throbbing of a headache, but when can a headache be identified as a migraine?  A migraine headache is described as an intense throbbing or pulsing sensation associated with increased cerebral blood flow or widening of the blood vessels. They are characterized by throbbing disabling pain on one side of the head, which sometimes spreads to affect the entire head. 

Some people experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound during a migraine. The pain can last for hours or days, leaving patients to seek refuge in a quiet, dark room until the migraine subsides.  

“Most people with significant headaches have underlying migraines,” explains Dr. Andrew Gordon, a neurologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.  “Many people with migraines have several types of headaches. While a severe migraine is hard to miss, a milder migraine can be difficult to diagnose because of overlap with tension headaches and neck pain.” 

When it comes to treating migraines vs. headaches, it’s all about recognizing warning signs and prevention.  A few days prior to a migraine, one can experience fatigue, feeling out of sorts or irritability, and these symptoms can occur right before a headache as well.  

Common triggers for migraines include:

  • Diet (i.e., MSG, aspartame, nitrates, nitrites)
  • Skipping meals
  • Hormonal changes, menstrual cycle
  • Changes in the weather
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Oversleeping
  • Stress 

Dr. Gordon points to artificial ingredients and sweeteners as the most common migraine triggers, but others include red wine, large amounts of caffeine or caffeine withdrawal. Although there’s no cure for migraines, speaking with a physician can help identify triggers and early warning signs, along with prescribed preventative medication or pain-relieving medication, which can help manage migraines. 

“Migraines can really disrupt a patient’s life,” Dr. Gordon says, “but there are measures you can take with the aid of a neurologist to try to prevent, and ultimately manage your migraines, and get back to your life.”

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.