Migraine and tension headaches are often painful, but there are notable differences between them that many people are unaware of. It is important to know what these differences are, as they can be pivotal in deciding to seek out a proper diagnosis and treatment. While migraine is less common than a tension headache, it is typically more disabling and can interfere with a person’s ability to function in virtually all areas of life, such as work, school, with family, and in social settings. Let’s first discuss what the symptoms of a migraine are, followed by how it differs from a tension headache.
There are several key migraine symptoms that are unique to the condition. One such symptom is a moderate to severe throbbing or pulsating pain that typically occurs on one side of the head in 60% of people. Some migraine sufferers also experience head pain that worsens with movement. Other symptoms of migraine include a sensitivity to sounds, lights, as well as nausea and/or vomiting. In fact, migraines are typically classified as one of two types: migraine without aura and migraine with aura. A migraine without aura is more common, while a migraine with aura is characterized by the aforementioned symptoms in addition to an aura. Those who experience an aura typically see it visually as jagged lines, zigzag patterns, dots or spots, but some people have sensory auras such as numbness or tingling in the face, hand and forearm, which is less common (30% of people). An aura can occur before the onset of a migraine attack or in association with the onset of the migraine pain (Remedy Health Media, 2018).
The duration of a migraine attack is typically between 4 and 72 hours in adults, and may be shorter in children an adolescent, although it can vary significantly in any individual person. Some people experience severe migraine symptoms on a daily basis, while others get them sporadically. Those who have migraine symptoms for 15 or more days a month, for at least 3 months, have what is known as chronic migraine. Others with migraine who have it less frequently have episodic migraine (Remedy Health Media, 2018).
There are key differences between a migraine headache and a tension headache that are important to know about. Moderate to severe throbbing pain on one side of the head is common with migraines, while with a tension headache the head pain is steady and occurs on both sides of the head and is not incapacitating. Moreover, tension headaches are not accompanied by nausea, vomiting or aura, and there is a question as to whether a sensitivity to lights and sounds is an associated symptom. Tension headaches do not disable an individual from their work or social activities. While stress and fatigue are common triggers for both regular tension headaches and migraine episodes, tension headaches are not typically triggered by specific foods, bright lights, the weather, or hormonal changes – all of which can set off a migraine (WebMD, 2018).
To learn some facts and statistics about migraines, please click here. If you would like to find out more about common migraine triggers, a previous article we published may be of interest to you. Stay tuned for future articles covering the latest developments in the field of migraines.
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Remedy Health Media, LLC. The 411 on Migraine. (2018). HealthCentral Migraine, 4-5.
WebMD. (2018). Tension Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-vs-tension-headache#1