Migraine Or Headache – A Comparison


Migraine Or Headache – A Comparison


migraine or headache

There are around 150 different types of headache which may be caused by things like colds, sinus infections, stress and drinking too much alcohol; with the most common being a tension headache which accounts for about 70 percent of all headaches.

Around 1 in 7 people suffer a severe form of headache called migraine. Although some headaches may be mistaken for migraine this is not the case, a migraine is a severe headache with very specific signs and symptoms which allow us to differentiate between the two.


The below chart compares a tension headache to a migraine

Tension Headache

A tension headache is caused by the contraction of muscles between the head and neck. It feels like an elastic band is tightening around the head causing a mild to moderate, dull pain which lasts from around half an hour to a few hours.

In severe cases a tension headache may last for days.


A migraine tends to be a moderate to extremely severe, throbbing pain in the front or the side of the head lasting from hours to days. A migraine can be unrelenting and may be accompanied by other symptoms known as the aura.

Warning Signs Before Onset

Warning Signs Before Onset

There are no warning signs for a tension headache

Before the onset of a migraine there are many warning signs (auras). These symptoms may be visual, auditory, physiological or psychological.

Visual: The person may see jagged or wavy lines, spots, dots, stars or sparkles accompanied by sensitivity to light

Auditory: The person may have hearing and speech disturbances accompanied by sensitivity to loud noise

Physiological:  The person may experience increased urination, tingling, numbness,  a sensation of spinning or  vertigo, weakness and fainting.

Psychological: The person may experience extreme mood changes, tiredness, hunger and thirst, feelings of fear, confusion and memory problems.

Certain symptoms will be specific to different patients and serve as a warning sign to the onset of a migraine.


There are two migraines which have specific symptoms.

  1. Basilar Migraine – fainting, double vision and loss of balance
  2. Familial Hemiplegic Migraine – reversible paralysis



There are many and varied causes of tension headache including:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Poor posture = musculoskeletal problems = headache
  • Tiredness
  • Dehydration
  • Noise
  • Sunlight
  • Hunger, smells and squinting

Migraine triggers can be from many sources also. Initially migraines are thought to be triggered by a chemical reaction in the brain.

Other triggers may include:

  • Hormonal changes (menstruation and menopause are high risk times)
  • Low blood sugar / hypoglyceamia
  • High sugar intake
  • Emotional anxiety
  • Exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol
  • Medicines (including contraceptives)
  • Staring at computer screens
  • Poor diet



Tension headaches are treated very effectively with relaxation techniques and over the counter medications.

If you are concerned about a headache because of it’s duration or intensity talk to your doctor.

The best treatment for migraine is avoidance – understanding your personal warning signs (auras) will allow you to prepare and move to an environment with minimal auditory or visual sources which can prevent the migraine entirely or reduce its severity.

You may wish to talk to your doctor about an appropriate management plan and prescription medication if needed