Written by Karah Frizzell

Ask Dr. Armstrong: Is there a difference between migraines and headaches?

1. What is a migraine? A migraine is a complex neurological condition characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches, typically affecting one side of the head. Unlike common headaches, migraines are often accompanied by other symptoms like sensitivity to light, noise, and odors; nausea; vomiting; and visual disturbances known as auras. These symptoms, combined with the intensity and duration of pain, can make migraines debilitating. Migraines often have distinct phases: the prodrome phase (subtle changes that signal an approaching migraine), the aura phase (visual disturbances or sensory symptoms), the attack phase (actual migraine headache), and the postdrome phase (a feeling of exhaustion or malaise after the headache subsides).

2. How is a migraine different from a regular headache? While both migraines and regular headaches involve pain in the head, they are distinctly different conditions. A regular tension headache usually presents as a dull, aching sensation all over the head, often described as a tight band around the head. On the other hand, a migraine typically produces a throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head and can be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Another differentiating factor is the intensity and duration. Migraines often last longer (from hours to days) and can be severe, while tension headaches are usually less intense and shorter in duration.