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What’s the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine?

A migraine causes a headache, but not all headaches are migraines. Here’s the difference and when to seek medical attention.


Headaches can vary from something minor, like a headache that accompanies sinus congestion, to a severe, life-threatening condition like a stroke. The location of the pain may vary and is often diagnostic. For example, a sinus headache tends to occur in the front of the face and forehead. A tension headache may feel like someone wrapped a band around your head and tightened it.

What’s a Migraine?

A migraine is actually a neurological condition. Blood vessels in the brain narrow and then expand, triggering the classic pulsing or pounding pain. Some migraines begin with flashing lights or other visual changes. Some may initially feel excessively tired, depressed or anxious. In addition to a headache caused by a migraine, sufferers may experience nausea and sensitivity to light.

Causes of Migraines

There are genetic factors involved in migraines. There’s evidence that sufferers have distinct differences in brain chemistry and structure. Hormones and family history may play a part; women who have migraines tend to have more trouble around the time of their periods. Stress and sleep deprivation can increase the risk of migraines in susceptible people, although they act more as triggers rather than a primary cause.

Migraine Severity and Frequency

A severe migraine can be completely debilitating. Frequency is also a problem, with migraines occurring daily in some individuals and lasting as long as 72 hours. Migraines are usually a chronic condition and may begin as early as puberty.

Preventing Migraines

Migraines cannot be cured, but with careful management and lifestyle changes, the severity and frequency may be reduced. The first step in migraine management is to keep a headache diary: including diet, stress, weather and emotional issues. Certain foods are more likely to cause migraines, but every person reacts differently. For example, alcohol is known to increase the risk in some individuals. Once the connections between diet and lifestyle have been identified, the patient can start to make changes.


Migraines are typically treated with medications for pain and nausea. Biofeedback and relaxation therapy may be helpful, especially if stress is a factor. Acupressure and acupuncture focus on specific points that may relieve a migraine – these are located in the temple area over the ears, back of the head, and on top of the foot between the big and second toe.

If you have frequent headaches, severe pain or neurological symptoms like vision changes, dizziness or paralysis, you should seek professional medical treatment. Please contact us at Complete Neurological Care today to book an appointment and learn more.

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