Some people who don’t have direct experience with migraines may confuse them with a headache. What are the key differences between a migraine vs. headache, and how can you tell the two apart? If you’re experiencing head pain, of any kind, it’s important to understand the type of headache you have. That way, you can seek the best and most appropriate treatment plan.

Migraine vs. headache — the basics

When it comes to migraine vs. headache, there are six major aspects that can help you identify which one you’re suffering from. Migraines are typically more intense and debilitating, with moderate to severe pain. They also last much much longer, and you’ll typically feel them in one side of the head. Further, migraines often occur with additional symptoms, like fatigue, nausea, and light/noise sensitivity.

Let’s take a look at these in more detail to better understand the differences between migraine vs. headache.

What is a migraine headache?

Migraines are an extreme form of headache that affect 36 million people in the U.S., 14 million of whom suffer from daily migraine pain. Migraines are a form of headache, but they’re usually separated due to their severity. However, they’re not simply a severe headache. They come with their own symptoms.

In addition to severe head pain, migraine sufferers may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Photosensitivity
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound and smells
  • Extreme fatigue

Individuals suffering from migraine headaches often can’t sit upright and need to be in a dark, cool space until the pain subsides. The environment or the food you eat or stress can trigger a migraine.

Migraine vs. Headache -- 6 Major Differences You Need To Know |

What are headaches?

The most common types of headaches are:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension type headache
  • Secondary headaches
  • Sinus headaches

Cluster headaches are a type of head pain that occurs in the exact same spot around the same time of day during a specific time of year. Tearing from the eye when the pain is occurring is also possible. Food and emotions do not trigger cluster headaches. Instead they are caused by dilations in the blood vessels of the brain due to a release of serotonin and histamines. They can be caused by physical exertion, bright lights, or even altitude.

You’ll feel tension headaches just behind the eyes, in the face and neck, and at the base of the skull. It may be the most common form of headache pain. Eyestrain, stress, and hunger are the most common causes of tension headaches. They can be chronic or reoccurring in nature. Most often, you can treat them with over-the-counter NSAID medications.

Secondary headaches are symptoms related to primary conditions. For example, headaches that appear in patients diagnosed with brain tumors are likely to have headache pain related to the cancer, though the headache itself is not the primary source of pain. The causes of secondary headaches are numerous and need to be addressed by your pain specialist.

The following video gives a brief overview of the science behind headaches.

6 differences between migraine vs. headache

Now that we have a better understanding of what a headache vs. migraine is, let’s look at those six different aspects again. These include:

  • Intensity
  • Duration
  • Symptoms
  • Phases
  • Causes
  • Treatments that work

1. Intensity

While both headache and migraine feature pain, the intensity level of a migraine headache is much higher than that of a regular headache. Pain feels as if it is coming from inside the skull and is often accompanied by throbbing in the temples or pain behind the eyes.

2. Duration

Tension and cluster headaches typically resolve within a few hours. Migraine pain can last for days at a time.

3. Symptoms

Headaches usually have one symptom: pain. Migraine heada