Migraine vs. headache: How to tell the difference and when to seek help – Fox News

By | February 11, 2020

For some, it’s a sudden onset of nausea and extreme light sensitivity that’s sometimes accompanied by an aura or vision changes that are then replaced by severe pain. Others may feel a sharp shooting sensation that travels down the neck. But for the nearly 40 million migraine sufferers in the U.S., the severe, recurrent pain can be debilitating.

“Migraines are usually an inherited headache disorder caused by a hypersensitive nervous system that is sensitive to change,” Dr. Merle Diamond, president and managing director of Diamond Headache Clinic, and board member of the National Headache Foundation told Fox News.


“Migraine is believed to occur due to chemical reactions in the brain, starting with a dull ache that turns to a constant throbbing and pulsating pain in the head temples,” Diamond said, before adding that while women are three times more likely to have a migraine than men, anyone can develop one.

In addition to the symptoms listed above, patients may describe a tingling sensation in the hands or face, and a change in the sense of smell, taste or touch. And while a typical headache is caused by traction, or pulling or pressure on any pain sensitive structure in the brain, dehydration, emotions, hunger, poor posture and weather can all trigger a migraine. Those who suffer from chronic migraines may be dealing with a chemical imbalance or hormonal changes, Diamond said.

“There are over 300 types of headache and migraine is one of them,” Diamond explained, adding that some of the other types include tension, sinus, cluster and menstrual.

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“Headache disease comes in many forms and it’s important to seek medical attention from a doctor or specialist if you’re head pain is frequent or brought on with no apparent cause,” she said, adding that it can be easy to dismiss a migraine as “just another headache,” but there are several differences between the two.

Recording symptoms over a period of several weeks can help a doctor more accurately diagnose and treat the specific type of headache that a patient is experiencing.

“We divide headache into two different categories, including primary/benign (tension-type, migraine, cluster) and secondary (originally caused),” Diamond said. “Depending on the cause and symptoms, every type of headache falls into one of these two categories. A person can also experience more than one type of headache, such as migraine with tension-type headache.”


Treatment varies from patient-to-patient depending on the severity and frequency of pain. Diamond explained that migraine-specific medications called triptans work to shrink blood vessels and alleviate symptoms, but they can be unsafe for those at risk of heart disease. She also said that more recently, gepants came onto the market which works to block pain rather than shrink blood vessels.

For those looking for alternative pain relief options that don’t include medication, Diamond said moving into a dark, quiet room, acupuncture, Botox, physical intervention, physical and recreational therapy, nerve blocks or massage therapy may help.


“Patients with migraine tend to have a very sensitive nervous system which is irritated by change,” Diamond said. “Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, not skipping meals, and being well hydrated can all be helpful. Avoiding triggers such as tyramine-rich foods and weather changes helps. There are also preventative oral medications migraine patients can take with a prescription.”

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