Migraine vs a Headache

Headache disorder is a term used to describe various nervous system conditions which cause painful symptoms, specifically in the head. Both headaches and migraines are considered headache disorders. Most people will experience a headache at least once in their life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that headache disorders affect nearly 50 percent of adults globally.

It is common for patients to have difficulty in identifying the difference between a common headache and a migraine. Migraines are considered chronic conditions. Headaches typically cause discomfort and pain in the head, face, or upper neck. They can vary in their severity and frequency. Migraines are extremely painful and considered to be a primary headache disorder. They typically result in more intense and debilitating symptoms compared to headaches. In some cases, a migraine does not cause head pain.


Experts classify headaches into two separate groups, primary and secondary. The term primary headaches is used to describe independent conditions which cause pain in the head, face, or neck. Migraines and tension headaches are both considered primary headaches. In comparison, secondary headaches are the result of another medical condition. This may include conditions such as an infection, stress, or medication overuse.

Tension-type headaches are common primary headache disorder. These headaches affect nearly 42 percent of adults throughout the world. Tension-type headaches are often described as a band of intense pressure surrounding the head. Medical professionals classify tension-type headaches as either chronic or episodic. Episodic tension-type headaches occur 10-15 days each month. Chronic tension-type headaches are more frequent and can cause scalp soreness. The following factors often cause tension-type headaches:

* Arthritis
* Anxiety or depression
* Bad posture
* Hunger
* Inadequate sleep
* Jaw clenching
* Neck straining
* Sleep apnea
* Stress

The two other types of primary headaches are hemicrania and cluster headaches. Hemicrania are persistent headaches which vary in their severity and typically affect the same side of the head. These headaches can occur daily, or be chronic. Cluster headaches cause severe pain on one side of the head and the pain is commonly behind the eye. These headaches typically come in clusters and patient will experience multiple headaches around the same time daily for several weeks.

Migraines are considered a primary headache disorder which can cause severe pain and other types of symptoms. Patients with migraines can experience recurring symptoms which are called attacks or episodes. A headache is just one symptom associated with migraines. Migraines can also vary in their severity. They can cause an intense, throbbing headaches which may last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days. While migraine headaches typically impact one side of the head, the pain can be present on both sides.

Migraine episodes often occur in four distinct phases which are outlined below:

1. Premonitory: this initial phase is sometimes called the pre-headache or prodrome phase. This includes non-painful symptoms which often occur prior to the onset of the headache.

2. Aura: Aura describes a sensory disturbance which occurs before or during a migraine. An aura can impact a patient’s vision, touch, and speech.

3. Headache: A headache from a migraine may be mild or severe. In cases of a severe migraine headache, the patient may require emergency medical treatment.

4. Postdrome: This phase occurs following the headache. During the postdrome phase, patients often feel exhausted, confused, and unwell.
Patients may not experience all four distinct phases when they have a migraine.

The factors listed below are associated with an increased risk for migraines:
* Female patients
* Family history of migraines
* Mood disorders, including anxiety, bipolar disorders, and depression
* Sleep disorders

Where do Migraines Hurt Usually