Migraines vs. Headaches: Know the Difference

Pain or pressure in the head can have many different sources and causes. Therefore, it can be tough to tell whether you’re suffering from a traditional headache or a migraine. It’s important to know the difference so you can get the right treatment and even prevent them in the future. In general, migraines are characterized by throbbing that worsens with any kind of physical exertion, such as walking upstairs. Headaches are more chronic and steady, characterized by a band-like pressure or tightness.


Causing pressure and aching, the pain from a headache can be mild, moderate or severe. Typically occurring in the forehead, temples, and back of the neck, headaches can last a half hour up to a week in some cases. The most common type of headache is a tension headache, triggered by stress, muscle strain and anxiety. Another common type of headache is a sinus headache, brought on by a sinus infection. This type of headache is accompanied by stuffy nose, cough, fever and congestion.


Typically more intense than headaches, migraines have additional symptoms besides just head pain, such as:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Pain behind one ear or eye
  • Temple pain
  • Temporary loss of vision
  • Spots of flashing lights

Migraine headaches are usually felt on one side of the head, but it’s not uncommon for pain to be felt on both sides. The pain associated with a migraine is pulsing and throbbing, often causing sufferers to seek refuge in a dark room to lie down. They usually make normal routines impossible.


Most headaches will subside with over-the-counter pain relievers, such acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen. Relaxation techniques can also help for both headaches and migraines. Research shows some types of massage therapy can ease migraine pain through the release of the chemical serotonin. Serotonin and migraines are thought to be related. Meditation can also help. According to the American Migraine Foundation, mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety, depression and our bodies’ response to physical pain.

Other ways to prevent headaches and migraines from happening in the first place is through dietary changes and stress-reducing activities.

If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, contact Atlanta Medical Clinic to learn more about our pain management treatment program.

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