Telling the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache

Telling the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache

Americans are no strangers to head pain — one in six report a migraine or severe headache over a three-month period. Now consider that nearly one in four households in the United States includes someone who has migraines, and more than four million people struggle with chronic migraines — 15 migraine days per month, or more. That’s a lot of pain!

At High Rock Internal Medicine, our experienced team of health care providers understands the different types of head pain and, more importantly, how to help our patients find relief. If you’re struggling with debilitating head pain that’s having an impact on your quality of life, the first step is to identify the problem.

To get started, here’s a look at the difference between a migraine and other types of headaches.

Headaches 101

Headaches can generally be divided into two categories:

Primary headaches

These types of headaches are standalone conditions, and the most common are tension headaches, which can make your head feel like it’s caught in a vice-like grip. Aside from tension headaches, cluster headaches are also primary headaches and typically come in waves, with weeks of pain on one side of your face, usually behind your eye, followed by long periods of no head pain.

Included under primary headaches are migraines, but we’ll get to their description in just a moment.


Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches involve head pain that’s a result of another medical issue. One of the more common types of secondary headaches are sinus headaches, which come with congestion from a cold or flu. In addition, pain from a blow to your head is considered a secondary headache, as well as the head pain that comes after a night of drinking.

While these two categories account for most headaches, the American Headache Society added a third category to include cranial neuralgias and facial pain.

Migraines — head pain and more

Migraines are a neurological disorder that lead to pain on one side of your head, as well as a host of other symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, smells, and touch
  • Visual disturbances, such as flashes of light

To expand upon the visual disturbances, migraines are generally divided into two categories:

  • Migraines with aura
  • Migraines without aura

An aura includes the visual problems we referred to above — flashes of light or zigzag lines in your vision — but an aura can also include:

  • Numbness and/or tingling in your face or hands
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Incoherent speech
  • A change in your senses of smell, taste, or touch

If an aura is present, it usually precedes the head pain by 10–30 minutes. And when the head pain strikes, migraines can last for several hours or even several days.

Getting to the bottom of your head pain

Aside from understanding the different symptoms, the best way to figure out what’s behind your head pain is to seek our diagnostic help. You should come prepared with a very detailed list of your symptoms and the timing of these symptoms, which provides us with incredibly valuable information about potential triggers.

After we review your symptoms, we also take a look at your family’s medical history as well as your own, which may provide us with further clues.

Once we determine which type of pain you’re suffering from, we can get you on the road to relief.

To find relief from your headache or migraine, call our office in Lexington, North Carolina at 336-477-9110 or set up an appointment online.