Difference Between Headache and Migraine

Main Difference – Headache vs Migraine

Headache is a very common yet unpleasant condition we experience in our day to day lives. The severity of it might not be big enough to keep us away from our daily lifestyle, but some headaches can be really torturing and make us glued to the bed, doing nothing at all. However, most of us tend to confuse headaches with migraines. The main difference between headache and migraine is that migraines typically affect only one side of the head whereas headaches may affect both sides of the head, temples, and back of the neck. 

This article explains, 

     1. What is a Headache
          – Features, Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment

     2. What is a Migraine
          – Features, Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment

     3. What is the difference between Headache and Migraine Difference Between Headache and Migraine - Comparison Summary

What is a Headache

A headache is an unpleasant sensation in your head which can either be a pressure or an ache. The severity of it can depend on the way you can bear up pain (pain threshold) and vary from mild to severe. Commonest sites of headaches include forehead, temples, and back of the neck. Headaches can occur as a symptom of an underlying pathology, so persistent headaches or ones which cause a negative impact on day to day activities requires medical advice.

There are various types of headaches, based on the underlying etiology as follows.

Primary Headaches

  • Tension Headaches

– This is a type of headache which gives a similar sensation of an elastic band, squeezing around your head. Caused by the contraction of muscles between your head and neck, this dull pain is usually experienced across the head and can be mild to moderate in severity. An attack usually lasts for half an hour to few hours, but in severe cases, this can last as long as for days.

  • Cluster Headaches

– Severe and painful headaches, which usually occur on one side of the head (unilateral). Painful attacks, experienced here are usually of clusters and will be accompanied by headache free episodes.

  • Migraine Headaches

– A moderate to severe pain, throbbing in nature on a side of the head or front area. Can be associated with nausea and blurred vision.

Secondary Headaches

These headaches usually occur as a part of an underlying illness or an injury.

  • Sinus Headache

– This is the commonest type of a secondary headache which can arise due to an underlying infection or increased pressure in sinuses.

  • Medication Overuse Headache

– Long-term use of certain drugs can trigger persistent headaches. This sort of headaches will usually resolve when you stop the drug and use alternatives.

A patient experiencing an acute or a chronic headache should be assessed carefully in order to establish an accurate diagnosis. Special attention should be given to numerous signs and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, blurring of vision, aura, neck stiffness, fever, ear discharge, etc.

Treatment for Headaches

Over the counter drugs

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Aspirin

Relaxation techniques

  • Heat therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Massages
  • Neck exercises with stretching

Difference Between Headache and Migraine

What is Migraine

A migraine is a throbbing pain usually arising in one side of the head, triggered by specific things or situations. Accounting for a significant female predominance (75%), migraine itself is known to make a huge negative impact on the manpower in a community.

Commonest triggering factors for migraine include,

  • Food such as caffeine and chocolate
  • Stress
  • Hormones
  • Cold climates
  • Waking up in the morning
  • Long journeys or flights

Signs and Symptoms

There are two main categories of Migraine based on the presence of Aura, a vivid visual sensation experienced by individuals 10-30 minutes before a migraine attack.

  • Migraines with aura
  • Migraines without aura

Migraines with aura are usually associated with,

  • Disturbed thinking
  • Visual disturbances such as flashing lights or vivid lines
  • A tingling or numb sensation in hands or face
  • Sensory disturbances of smell, taste or touch

Other signs and symptoms associated with migraine include,

  • Yawning
  • Irritability
  • Constipation
  • Neck stiffness
  • Unusual food cravings

Treatment for Migraine

  • Prevention and staying away from triggering factors
  • Dietary changes (avoid alcohol and caffeine)
  • Taking prescribed medicine such as Antidepressants, anti-hypertensive drugs, antiepileptic medicines
  • Psychotherapy


Medication such as-Anti emetics, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and Triptans.

Main Difference - Convenience vs Convenient

Difference Between Headache and Migraine

A migraine is a type of a headache which usually occurs due to various triggering agents such as environment, stress, hormones, food etc.


Most migraines are moderate to severe in nature when compared to headaches, where the severity would depend on the underlying cause and may vary from mild to moderate to severe.

Sites Affected

Migraines typically affect only one side of the head (unilateral), although some patients might rarely experience bilateral aches.

Commonest sites of headaches include forehead, temples, and back of the neck.

Characteristic of Pain

As far as the characteristic of pain is concerned, headaches are usually intense and achy whereas migraines are throbbing and dull, making daily activities quite difficult or impossible.

Image Courtesy:

“Migraine Infographic” by Pain Pix (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

“Migraine” By Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids – Can’t Concentrate: 14/365 (CC BY 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: admin

Leave a Reply