Migraine: How to tell if you’re having more than just a headache

Here's how to tell if your headache is actually a migraine.

We often dismiss a headache as a temporary pain that will go away after taking one or two paracetamols or getting some much-needed rest. And while this is often the case, many times people have no idea that they’re actually dealing with something more serious—a migraine.

Migraines vs headaches

According to Brandeis Brockman, a nurse practitioner at Delancey Internal Medicine, a migraine is a ‘neurological disease that involves nerve pathways and chemicals.’ People who suffer from migraines usually have recurring episodes that vary from mild to severe pain.

Headaches, on the other hand, are usually the side effects of other conditions and they are divided into two categories—primary and secondary. Medical News Today states that primary headaches are usually induced by migraines or tension which then cause pain in the head, face, or neck. Whereas secondary headaches are the consequences of other medical conditions like infections, seizures, brain tumours, or medication overuse.

Here are the four most common types of headaches that people usually experience:

  • Cluster headaches: Attacks one side of the head and comes in waves
  • Sinus headaches: Accompanied by symptoms like a stuffy nose or fever
  • Chiari headaches: Pain at the back of the head which is caused by a birth defect called Chiari malformation
  • Thunderclap headaches: A severe headache that ‘develops in 60 seconds’ and could be caused by a subarachnoid haemorrhage

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How to tell them apart

As mentioned before, headaches are one of the many symptoms of a migraine. So, if you are experiencing a throbbing pain in your head, these other side effects may be able to indicate if your headache is actually a migraine. They are, as listed by PennMedicine:

  • Severe head pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sound, or smells
  • Extreme fatigue

Healthline also reports that migraines are felt on one side of the head more often than usual.

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