All of us have had days when our head aches so badly that it becomes difficult to see straight! While a headache is usually not a life-threatening condition, the excruciating pain experienced during a migraine attack can become unbearable. It can incapacitate you to an extent that you may have to put your life on hold till the migraine demon decides to release you from his vise-like grip.


I had 3-4 e mail requests from my blog visitors, who wanted to know whether the head aches they experienced were actually a migraine or just a regular headache? While most patients with a severe new headache fear that they might have a brain tumor or other neurological disorder, these serious problems are extremely rare


I have had my share of headaches and thus, know for sure that when headaches strike, they always appear to be severe. However, to be able to reduce the incidence of these headaches, it is important to know the difference between a regular headache and a migraine headache?


The most common types of headache range from a tension headache, a caffeine withdrawal headache, a hunger headache, a menstrual headache, an alcoholic hangover headache, a headache that is caused by eyestrain, a sinus headache, an “ice cream headache”, or a temporal mandibular headache, also known as a TMJ headache. Many headaches are due to fatigue or lack of sleep. Emotional stress and symptoms of depression can also cause headaches, while even certain types of foods have found to be potential contributing factor.


Categories of headaches-


Headaches generally fall into two basic categories: tension headaches and migraine headaches. A tension headache manifests itself as a band of pain around the head. The pain can spread to the neck and back. These headaches are caused by the contraction of neck and facial muscles and are aggravated by dental problems, bad posture and eye strain. A migraine is an intense throbbing pain that often begins on one side of the head and then spreads throughout the face and head. In severe cases, a migraine can last for several days and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or a blocked nose.


Headaches Vs Migraine

While only your doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and suggest a treatment, there are some important distinctions between migraines and headaches.




  • Pain is moderate to severe and can be strong enough to interfere with daily activities
  • Pain tends to feel stabbing/throbbing and is usually located in one part of the head
  • Pain lasts from 4 – 72 hours
  • Pain is often accompanied by secondary symptoms, such as:
    • Sensitivity to light, sound, or motion
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
  • Pain does not respond well to over-the-counter treatments like aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Pain is mild to moderate
  • Pain is all over the head
  • Pain is short lived
  • There are no secondary symptoms (such as vomiting, auras, or sensitivity to motion)
  • Pain responds well to over –the–counter treatments like aspirin or ibuprofen


In addition to these symptoms, migraines (and sometimes tension headaches) can also cause a sensitivity to light (which is called photophobia) and/or sensitivity to sounds or loud noises (which is called phonophobia.) Migraines and other types of headaches can also be so bad that just standing up out of a chair and slowly walking across a room can make the throbbing pain much, much worse.

What are the causes of a migraine?

Doctors have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause for migraines.

Ø      Some of them believe that migraines can be triggered by changes in hormonal levels. This would probably explain why migraines occur more frequently in women before, during and after menstruation. Birth control pills have also been known to increase the severity of migraines in women who tend to suffer from these headaches.

Ø      Some people link the incidence of their migraine attacks to particular drugs, food or additives.

Ø      Other substances that have been identified as causing migraines are: chocolate, excessive caffeine, citrus fruits, nitrates in cold cuts and hot dogs, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) used most often in Chinese food.

Ø      Stress has been linked to the occurrence of migraines, but it is not a direct cause-effect relationship because some people get migraines more often on vacations and weekends. However, anxiety is definitely a factor for people who have migraine attacks more than twice a week.

Tips to overcome the pain-

A person who is prone to getting migraines can take a few steps to alleviate his pain.

·        If you feel a migraine coming on, you should lie down in a quiet, darkened room and try to take a short nap.

·        Try to avoid stressful situations and learn to relax.

·        Maintain regular sleeping habits.

·        Avoid foods and other substances in your diet if you know that they cause migraines.

·        Maintain a stable blood sugar level by eating meals at regular tinimings and at proper intervals.

While there a few measures you can take to pre-empt the onset of a migraine or to alleviate the pain of a migraine attack, they may not always be effective. Unfortunately, for people prone to migraines, often the only thing to do is to bear it.

Also, it’s advisable to seek help if the headache is associated with any change in your neurological function, such as any paralysis, numbness, slurred speech, or loss of sight. Your physician can best determine the type of headache you are experiencing and may then be able to prescribe an effective treatment to combat the pain.



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