Plenty of factors can trigger a migraine.( Sadly, in-laws don’t attain the list. But stress does. So … perhaps ?)
If you’ve experienced migraines in the past, you’re probably aware of these triggers and how they make you feel. But if you haven’t — or if you’re unsure whether you have — understanding just how migraines can affect your life might be challenging. What is the pain really like? Is it basically simply a headache?
“Headache is a general word that refers to head pain, ” explained Susan Hutchinson, medical adviser for Cirrus Healthcare and director of the Orange County Migraine& Headache Center in Irvine, California. “There are primary headaches like migraines, tension and cluster headaches and then there are’ secondary’ headaches, such as those caused by meningitis, a brain tumor or a head injury.”
Tension headaches occur within the muscular areas of the head, the back of the scalp or the forehead, while a migraine happens within the brain itself. With all this overlap, figuring out what kind of pain you’re experiencing is not easy. But there are certain signs you can look for.
Pay Attention To The Pain
When people suppose “headache, ” they might typically be referring to a tension headache, which is a common type of head pain. People with tension headaches tend to feel as if their head is being squeezed in a vise-grip( hence the terminology ), are in accordance with Jonathan Cabin, director of The Migraine Institute in Beverly Hills, California. Migraine pain is often located elsewhere.
“For migraines classically — but this doesn’t happen for everyone — pain occurs on one side of the head and it’s a throbbing pain, ” he explained.
For someone who is experiencing migraines, the side they occur on is typically where that person’s sensory nerve is acting as a trigger, which then sets off a migraine inside the brain. Hutchinson added that tension headaches typically won’t stop person from completing undertakings or halting their daily activity, while migraines often get worse with activity and have a throbbing, pulsating feeling.
Note Any Nausea Or Other Symptoms
In addition to their range on the pain spectrum, migraines can be differentiated by their very specific symptoms. Both Cabin and Hutchinson said telltale signs of migraines are nausea and sensitivity to suns and sounds.
“Migraines will generally last anywhere from four to 72 hours, and tension headaches are much shorter, ” Cabin said. Depending on what kind of migraine you have, you may also experience an aura, which is a physical sensation such as a change in vision or sudden dizziness. “About one-third of migraine patients have these auras, ” Cabin added.
Migraines will generally last anywhere from four to 72 hours, and tension headaches are much shorter. Jonathan Cabin, director of The Migraine Institute
Even with all of this information, it can be confusing to figure out what’s going on when you experience a headache — or what you think might be a migraine.
“There are people who experience migraine-like tension headaches and there’s no blood test or scan that can be done to prove one or the other, so it’s genuinely a matter of monitoring the symptoms, ” Cabin said.
And while you might assume that most headaches are just that — headaches — Hutchinson believes differently. “As a headache expert, bad recur tension headaches are actually migraines, ” she explained.
Take Stock Of Your Triggers
Whether you suffer from headaches or migraines, certain triggers can exacerbate both conditions.
Stress, dehydration, sleep( both too much and too little ), diet, intense exercise in some cases and environmental alterations like an increase in pollen or barometric changes are the major sources of head pain, according to both Cabin and Hutchinson. These triggers can propel both tension headaches and migraines, but those who experience migraines will consistently experience head pain from one or a few of these triggers while a tension headache may merely spur from one of these issues every so often.
Treat Your Head Pain Accordingly
One of the biggest differences between headaches and migraines is that headaches will respond to over-the-counter medicines, while migraines typically will not, Cabin said.
“Treatment for tension headaches and migraines can include both a holistic approach as well as prescription medicine, ” Hutchinson added. Things like cleaning up your diet from MSG and processed foods, taking a weekly yoga class, keeping alcohol and caffeine in check, and establishing healthy sleep habits may help, Hutchinson said.
For migraine sufferers who still can’t find relief, Cabin suggested seeking care from a primary doctor or a neurologist. Depending on your condition, you may be diagnosed with chronic migraines if you suffer from 14 or more migraines a month. Treatment for that particular diagnosis can include more severe medical interventions like Botox injections in the head and surgery to help attack the trigger nerves in the brain and mitigate those signals entirely.
“The way I phrase it to patients is that treatment is usually a mix-and-match of options based on that patient’s needs. There’s no universal therapy or magic bullet, ” Cabin said.
Seek Additional Help From A Specialist If Necessary
“It’s critical that a headache be properly diagnosed and treated, ” Hutchinson said. “Some health care providers have gone for extra training and are certified in headache medicine.” To find functional specialists, Hutchinson recommended checking out the American Headache Society and the National Headache Foundation.
It’s critical that a headache be properly diagnosed and treated. Susan Hutchinson, director of the Orange County Migraine& Headache Center
At the very least, speak up at your next visit to the doctor. You may think you’re only experiencing an average headache, but there’s a chance you’re not: Research shows that 1 out of 6 Americans will suffer from migraines, with 12 percent of Americans experiencing a migraine at some point in their life. If you’re a woman, your risk is even higher. Chatting with your physician about treatment options could make a huge difference.
“There is an undertreatment of these headaches where people are either getting the incorrect kind of treatment for a different type of headache or no treatment at all because they don’t know what’s available, ” Cabin said.