Young man with headache

A lot of people think that migraines are simply severe headaches. Unfortunately, headaches are usually just one of many different migraines symptoms. So, how can you tell if you're experiencing "just" a headache or you're having a migraine attack? Let's answer this question together. Once you learn the differences, you'll be able to get the adequate treatment to relieve your pain and prevent more attacks from occurring.

migraine headache

Migraine vs Headache Types

To learn about the difference between a migraine and a headache, you may need to know how many different types are out there. We'll describe the most common migraines and headaches types, so you can recognize the symptoms, classify your pain, and get the needed relief.

Tension-Type Headaches

A tension headache is the most common type. Almost 90% of all headaches are in this category. This headache type may appear every now and then and usually doesn't last long. The pain, which emerges across both sides of the head, may simply disappear within a few hours.

Sinus Headaches

These headaches are caused by the swelling in the sinuses, so they usually appear when you're sick with a cold or flu. The headache pain is located behind the nose and eyes. After the flu is gone, the sinus headache may also pass.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster type headache is the most painful type of headache. The pain can be more severe than migraine pain! They appear in cyclical patterns (cluster periods), meaning they usually happen at the same time of the day/night. Luckily, the pain doesn't last long and the treatments could make cluster headache attacks manageable.

Rebound Headaches

People with a history of medication overuse may experience rebound headaches. These headaches occur when you're taking too many pain-relieving drugs for tension headaches and migraines. Once the effect of the drugs wears off, you'll experience withdrawal symptoms with a rebound headache. That's why you should dose your medication according to the medical advice from your doctor.

man in pain

Types of Migraines

Migraine headaches are not that common. Less than 20% of Americans have experienced them. However, they are more painful than tension headaches and they come with additional symptoms. Migraine symptoms and pain location also vary depending on the type of migraine an individual is experiencing.

There are two main types of migraines: with or without an aura. A migraine without aura is known as a common migraine. People with this condition experience throbbing pain on one side of the head along with occasional nausea, vomiting, and audio-visual sensitivity.

Migraines with aura are often called classic migraines. Aura is the term used to underline sensory changes that happen before a migraine headache. Depending on the aura type, you might experience blurred vision with blind spots, difficulty speaking or hearing, muscle weakness, etc.

Migraine vs Headache: Different Symptoms

Now that you know about different types of headaches, we should move onto the symptoms. Note that these symptoms may appear separately or together, depending on the type of headache and migraine you're experiencing. They can also vary from one person to another.

The most common symptoms of tension-type headaches include:

  • Mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head
  • Tight pressure on the head
  • Scalp tenderness

On the other hand, symptoms of migraines can be summarized as:

  • Moderate to severe pain on one side of the head
  • Pain around the eyes and temples
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Vision impairment or seeing spots and flashing lights

As stated, migraine symptoms depend on the type of migraine you're experiencing. Migraines with aura, like the ocular migraine, cause visual disturbances (blind spots, flashing lights, zigzags). Hemiplegic migraine causes motor weakness, while basilar migraine includes symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance, and tinnitus.

How Do I Know if Its a Tension-Type Headache or Migraine?

Migraine comes with a severe headache and other symptoms. Before and during a migraine attack, you might experience blurred vision, blind spots, inability to speak, and other sensory issues. Migraine headaches also last longer, usually anywhere from several hours to a couple of days, if they're untreated. On the other hand, headaches don't last long and may pass on their own.

The head pain intensity shouldn't be used as a distinction between a migraine and a headache. While tension headache is mild, a cluster headache is very painful. The pain caused by the cluster headache can even wake you up in the middle of the night! That's why you should always look for other symptoms, so you can be sure you're having a migraine attack.

What Part of the Head Hurts During a Migraine?

Localization of the pain may also help you tell the difference between tension headaches and migraines. During tension headaches, you'll feel pain and pressure on both sides of the head. The pain would start in the back of your head and slowly move forward. On the other hand, the pain during migraine headaches is usually localized on one side of the head, around the eyes or behind the ears.

What Are the Causes of Migraines and Headaches?

Tension-type headaches are usually caused by stress, hunger, or burnout. Sinus headaches occur when you're sick, while rebound headaches come with uncontrolled medication usage. The most severe type, cluster headache, is caused by the dilation of the blood vessels in the brain when your body is releasing serotonin and histamines. They can also be caused by excessive physical activity or bright lights.

The cause of migraine headaches isn't quite certain. Most migraine headaches are hereditary but the environment has a huge impact on their development. Migraines can be caused by many different triggers, such as blue lights, certain foods, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, allergies, etc. That is why a lot of people decide to start writing a migraine journal, so that they can identify and avoid external factors that cause their migraines.

The Best Treatment

Headaches are typically treated with medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Sometimes even a cup of coffee may help you get relief, since caffeine can reduce inflammation. If over-the-counter medications don't help, you may want to visit a doctor to get advice on how to deal with chronic migraines.

Treatment for a migraine headache is usually based on a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. Once you get a diagnosis, your doctor will be able to prescribe proper medications for you. The doctor will also advise you to keep track of possible migraine triggers and avoid them.

While there isn't a specific cure for headaches and migraines, certain habits may help prevent them. For example, you should try to exercise regularly, improve your sleep, and use different relaxation techniques such as meditation, acupuncture, yoga, massages, and aromatherapy.


When you know the difference between headaches and migraines, you'll find it easier to know what causes pain, what might constitute the possible triggers, and what you can use as effective remedies. Use this information to get the needed relief and improve your health. Migraines and headaches may prove to be tricky to control, but if you've tried all you can and still need relief, you can stop your migraines now with the Migraine Stopper - the innovative device that has helped many people overcome their migraine and headache pain!