Headache vs Migraine

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Published on June 13, 2018

Headache vs Migraine

Woman with a headache

Woman with a headacheHeadaches can be a nuisance when you’re trying to go about your day. The good news is that, most times, they can be treated with over-the-counter medication and some rest. However, when the pain becomes unmanageable, it may be more than just a headache. “Knowing the difference between a headache and a migraine headache is key to finding treatment and/or remedies,” says Andrew Yuh Chao DO, PIH Health Family Medicine. “Talk to your doctor if you have recurring headaches as these can be factors linked to conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”


Migraine headaches are painful and can often times become debilitating. People who suffer from migraines often experience pulsating, typically on one side of the head, behind or near the eye, accompanied with nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. Triggers include but are not limited to, dehydration, hormone changes in women (due to menopause, pregnancy or menstruation) excess stress, poor diet, bright lights, unusual smells, certain medications (oral contraceptives, etc.), traveling or changes in sleep patterns.

Migraine headaches often come with warning signs prior to the attack. These warnings are called “auras” and consist of flashing lights, spotted or disturbed vision, difficulty speaking and numbness in your arms/legs.

Migraine treatment ranges from over-the-counter medications, to antidepressants and Botox injections. Anti-nausea drugs and preventative medications are also prescribed to treat migraine symptoms but vary depending on the severity and the occurrence.


Similar to migraines, headaches can be painful. Headaches consist of a contraction of muscles between the head and neck and affect both sides of the head. “Headaches can range from mild to moderate and can last days, depending on the severity, with no warnings prior,” says Dr. Chao.

Triggers include but are not limited to, sudden stress and anxiety, fatigue, poor posture, tiredness, dehydration, hunger, certain smells, squinting, noise and sight.

Episodic headaches last a few hours whereas chronic headaches can last a few days.

Treatment for tension headaches vary depending on the severity but range from aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Yoga can also play a factor in alleviating headaches as certain poses stretch out the head and neck which loosen up tight muscles and reduce tension.

When to See a Doctor

If your headache feels like nothing you’ve ever felt before, and is accompanied with the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary doctor for an evaluation.

  • Dizziness, weakness or falling
  • Confusion, seizures, trouble speaking
  • Double vision, blind spots, blurriness
  • Severe vomiting
  • After a head collision or fall

PIH Health Physicians is the only medical group exclusively affiliated with PIH Health hospitals. Call 888.365.4450 or visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor to search for a specific doctor in or near your area.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.