Migraine vs. Headache: What's the Difference?

Marina Medved-Lentini of Parenting with Migraine
By Marina Medved-Lentini

June is National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month, which is a good time to talk about the difference between migraine and a headache.

I am a dedicated Migraine advocate who has lived with migraine for most of my life. Aside from the actual head pain, one of the most frustrating things about this invisible disorder is its stigma. Many people who do not understand think those with migraine disorder are being dramatic, faking it, and cannot handle “just a headache.”

Migraine is a spectrum neurological disorder. It presents differently in people in both severity and frequency. A typical headache is a random pain you might get once or twice a year when you get dehydrated at the beach, after a night of no sleep, or from wearing too tight of a headband. Migraine and headache disorders (cluster headache, hemicrania continua, new daily persistent headache, etc) are entirely different from typical headaches and should not be confused.

Here are five differences between migraine and headache:

1. Migraine is a neurological disorder
Migraine is a neurological disorder that impacts the daily life for over 1 billion people worldwide. There is no cure, but the disease can be managed. While a person can take an over the counter medicine for a typical headache, migraine often requires a multimodal approach and much more attention. In fact, taking acute medications too frequently can cause rebound headaches for people with migraine.

2. Migraine has distinct phases
Migraine has distinct phases with distinct symptoms. Although not everyone experiences all these phases and symptoms and each attack varies from the next. There phases include: prodrome, aura, attack, resolution, postdrome, interictal.

3. Migraine can be severe in intensity
Severity is another difference between migraine and a headache. A typical headache may be dull to acute pain, but people are able to go through their day with only minor inconveniences. Migraine attacks are typically more severe and can often be debilitating, causing people to miss work or other commitments.

4. Head pain is one of the migraine symptoms
A typical headache presents as head pain. However, a migraine attack includes head pain which is usually accompanied by a broader range of symptoms. These can include nausea and vomiting, neck pain, light and sound sensitivity, dizziness, extreme fatigue, or nasal congestion.

5. Migraine is genetic
People with family members who suffer from migraine are more likely to develop migraine themselves. This is true for me, as my grandmother, aunt, and cousins all suffer from migraine. 

The more people understand the difference between migraine and a headache, the less stigma there will be for those suffering. If you suspect you may be experiencing migraine attacks, speaking to your doctor and getting diagnosed is a good place to start. You can then begin managing your migraine symptoms with the proper treatments and lifestyle modifications.

I use a multimodal approach to managing my migraine disease which involves medication, lifestyle changes, and natural treatments. I use the following natural and organic remedies by Forces of Nature: the Migraine Relief rollerball  (helps relieve migraine symptoms, including nausea), the Sleep Well rollerball (because not getting enough sleep is one of my migraine triggers), and the Calm Mood dropper (because stress is another big migraine trigger of mine.)

Visit Forces of Nature to discover safe, effective, organic remedies.

Marina Medved-Lentini is the founder of Parenting With Migraine, dedicated to helping people with migraine, especially parents, live a more empowered life by offering education, support, and hope. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children. When she is not working or being a migraine advocate, she enjoys gardening, listening to audiobooks, and spending time with her family.

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