Is This A Headache Or A Migraine?


You know the friend.  The one who collapses dramatically on the sofa and declares she cannot possibly do x, y or z because she “has a migraine.”  Or the person that has an extremely detailed list of trigger foods and is currently subsisting on raw tofu and water from France.

As maladies go, headaches are usually no big deal.  However, as soon as someone says “migraine,” it becomes an entirely different ballgame.  Headaches are something of a nebulous issue anyway because it’s often difficult to offer more detail than “My head hurts.”  How do you differentiate migraines from garden-variety headaches?

Here are a few important distinctions:

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head.  It may feel like the headache “moves” when you do.
  • Eye pain.  Migraines often occur behind the eyes and can signal that it’s time for some serious intervention.  Blind spots can also be an indicator of a migraine.
  • An extreme sensitivity to light and/or noise.  Regular headaches can make you irritable but exposure to every day sounds and noise can make a migraine sufferer downright stabby.
  • Migraine sufferers often have “hangovers.”  Either from extreme pain, the use of triptans to alleviate the pain, or both, the sufferer can feel like he or she has been hit by a truck afterward.
  • Vomiting, nausea, upset stomach and abdominal discomfort may be symptomatic of a migraine.
  • Extreme fatigue often accompanies a migraine.
  • A loss of appetite is common.  It’s tough to feel hungry when your head feels like it might explode.
  • Some people experience auras, which are light patterns, flashing dots, or jagged lines.  Others may experience strange odors or bodily sensations.  Pay attention to any symptoms that are atypical of a common headache.
  • Physical activity worsens the pain.

Migraines affect 28 million Americans each year and 70% of migraine sufferers are women.  The causes range from hormone changes and stress to artificial sweeteners.  Doctors often recommend keeping a headache diary to identify the factors that tip off your migraines.  Keep track of the time of frequency of medication, meals and exercise.  You may discover some pre-migraine clues to help you head off the next one.

Migraines are very treatable.  There are variety of ways to reduce the frequency as well as treating one in progress.  See your doctor to find the right treatment for you.

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