Headaches aren’t uncommon. In fact,
almost everyone will experience at least one headache in his or her lifetime,
and many will deal with them off and on throughout their lives. However, some
headaches are worse than others. These may be migraines.
During a migraine, the temporal artery,
an artery that lies outside the skull and just under the temple, enlarges or
dilates. This enlargement stretches the nerves that are coiled around the
temporal artery and causes them to release chemicals that can cause
inflammation, pain, and even greater enlargement of the artery. As the artery
grows larger, the pain becomes worse.
Migraines affect 28 million Americans
each year, or about 14 percent of the population. Your headache symptoms may
actually be a sign of a migraine. Here’s how to tell the difference between a common
headache and a migraine.
When Is a Headache More Than a Headache?
Nearly 90 percent of headaches are
tension headaches—simply put, they are a pain in your head. These headaches are
most often associated with and made worse by fatigue, sleep deprivation, and
stress, and they are typically treated with over-the-counter medicine or rest.
Conversely, only about 10 percent of headaches each year are migraine headaches,
making this type much rarer. People with migraines may experience nausea,
vomiting, dizziness, abdominal pain, vision trouble, and pain behind the eyes.
A migraine sufferer may experience several of these symptoms at once in
addition to the headache, or may have only one in addition to the headache.
Each person’s experience is different, and symptoms may change with each onset
of a migraine.
Comparing Headaches and Migraines
characteristics: Migraine sufferers
report deep throbbing, pounding, and pulsating pain. Tension headaches can
range from dull pressure throughout the head to a tight squeeze on the head or
around the neck.
Gender: Both migraine and tension headaches plague women
more than men. In fact, 70 percent of migraine sufferers are women. This may be
due to hormone fluctuations brought on by menstruation or menopause.
Sensitivities: A migraine may cause sensitivity to light, sound, or
smells. Tension headaches rarely cause these sensitivities.
of pain: Pain behind or near the eye
on one side of the head or the other is another mark of a migraine. This
divided pain in the head occurs with 60 percent of migraines. Pain throughout
the head, across the forehead, or at the base of the neck is a mark of a
of pain: A migraine can be quite
painful; sufferers report pain that is moderate to very severe. Tension
headaches are typically only mild to moderately painful.
Nausea: Nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach are all common
with migraine headaches but rarely occur during a tension headache.
aura: A visual aura (bright, flashing
lights or dots that appear in the field of vision) can occur before a migraine
begins, though it’s not common even among people with previous migraines. Other
types of auras may occur, too. These include vision loss, a pins-and-needles
sensation in the arms and legs, and speech or language problems.
Prodrome: A day or two before a migraine occurs, your body may
begin giving you warning signs. These subtle changes include constipation,
diarrhea, feelings of irritability or depression, neck stiffness, and
hyperactivity. These symptoms typically do not occur before a tension headache.
of headache: A migraine headache may
develop and worsen over a period of several hours or days. A tension headache
often develops and resolves much more quickly, typically within a day.
Triggers: Stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation are the most
common triggers for a tension headache, but people who suffer from migraines
report a variety of triggers. The most common ones include bright lights
(photophobia), loud noises (phonophobia), exposure to odors such as perfume or
smoke, changes in sleep patterns, alcohol or caffeine consumption, and skipping
Other Types of Headaches
A cluster headache is an intense
headache with one to three painful episodes, or clusters, each day. Patients
who have cluster headaches report the pain to be severe and searing, with the
center of the pain typically located behind one eye. People with cluster
headaches also may experience red, teary eyes, something that is not common in
migraines or tension headaches. This type of headache is more common in men
A sinus headacheis not actually a
headache but is instead a painful response to nasal congestion or runny nose.
When the sinuses are inflamed or irritated, you may experience pain across your
forehead and cheeks. This pressure may feel like a headache and cause symptoms
of a headache.