A senior man rubbing his temples as he has a headache

At best, head pain is a nuisance, but at its worst, those excruciating sensations can rob you of an entire day or more. Learning how to distinguish the different types of head pain — including the difference between headache and migraine pain — can help you find the right treatment so you get relief faster.


When It’s Probably a Headache

Headaches are extremely common — almost everyone experiences them from time to time. The source of your head pain may be difficult to pinpoint, but some common sources include weather changes and a lack of caffeine (if you’re used to having it). A headache may be your body’s way of telling you there’s something off, such as hunger, stress, fatigue or exhaustion. Some foods and medications can also cause headaches.


A tension headache typically lasts for hours, does not include other symptoms and presents with mild to moderate pain, usually across the forehead or back of your head. Many people describe a tension headache as a dull, squeezing pain. A sinus headache is also typically mild to moderate pressure-like pain that lasts for a few hours, but this type of head pain is focused across your nose and cheeks, and commonly includes other sinus-related symptoms.


When You Might Have a Migraine

Migraines are believed to be the result of changes in blood flow and nerve cells in the brain, and genetics may be a factor. If you have significant head pain or a recurring headache, you might find yourself asking, “What does a migraine feel like?” A migraine brings sharp, pulsing moderate to severe pain that is typically localized to a specific location, not the entire head. With a migraine, you may also experience light sensitivity and nausea.


Over time, many people who experience migraines are able to identify patterns or triggers. Some people notice visual disruptions preceding a migraine, such as halos, wavy lines in your vision or even temporary loss of vision. These aura symptoms are sometimes mistaken for a stroke, especially if they’re accompanied by tingling in the face, hands or one side of the body.


How to Tell the Difference Between Headaches and Migraines

The severity of pain is one of the biggest differences between headache and migraine pain. On a pain continuum, migraines fall toward the far end of extreme disabling pain, while headaches typically fall at a low- to mid-range point.


Another difference between headaches and migraines is the nature of the pain. Headaches tend to produce a dull, persistent pain, while migraine pain is sharper and seems to throb. The location of your head pain gives more clues to help you tell the difference between a headache and a migraine. Migraines commonly affect just one side of your head, unlike headaches, which you may feel across your entire forehead, for example. Comparing migraines vs. headaches, migraines also tend to last longer — up to 24 hours or more — compared to an average headache.

 Headaches that Need Medical Attention

Some headaches are cause for serious concern and warrant medical attention. If you have a sudden, severe headache that feels like someone hit you in the head (or a headache after you really do hit your head), it’s worth seeing a doctor. Headaches combined with fever, convulsions, confusion, behavioral changes, and eye or ear pain should also be evaluated by a doctor, as should other headaches that won’t go away or affect your daily life.


Preventing and Treating Head Pain

Identifying what causes your head pain can be your greatest weapon for prevention since you’ll be better prepared to avoid potential triggers. However, if your trigger is related to something beyond your control, like the weather, you may have better results by focusing on effective treatment methods instead.


In many cases, the sooner you do something to address your head pain, the more successful you’ll be at achieving relief. Waiting too long, especially for a migraine, may mean riding out the pain for an extended time.


When it comes to treating headaches vs. migraines, you may find a headache is more easily managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, while more frequent or serious pain may require a consultation with your doctor to find a more effective treatment. Some people also find relief by changing their surroundings, such as lying down in a dark, cool room.


Access Health Services when You Need Them

Fellowship Medical Group provides medical evaluations and treatment for comprehensive health needs for adults and seniors, whether it’s treating a chronic headache, managing migraines or something else entirely. Contact us to learn about these and the other services at Fellowship Medical Group with offices in Basking Ridge and Denville, New Jersey.