Is It A Migraine Or Just A Headache

Migraines can cause very severe—often debilitating—headaches, accompanied by a host of related symptoms in varying parts of the body. If you’re experiencing frequent, severe head pain, you may be wondering whether you’re suffering from migraines or common tension headaches.

While only a doctor can diagnose migraines, learning about the differences between migraines and headaches can help you determine the cause of your head pain.

Migraine Causes

Headaches are commonly caused by tension, stress and anxiety, though they can be caused by a host of other factors, like eyestrain and sinus pressure.

Migraines tend to be chronic and genetically linked, and occur more often in women than men. Migraines often accompany other medical conditions, like sleep disorders and epilepsy. They’re often triggered by changes in weather, hormone shifts and chemicals in certain foods. They also tend to be more severe than common headaches.

Symptoms of Migraines

The symptoms of migraines tend to differ from the symptoms of ordinary headaches. Unlike tension headaches, migraines are often accompanied by an “aura,” or a collection of strange neurological and visual sensations that occur about an hour before the onset of head pain. These can include visual effects like bright flashing lights, or muscular sensations like weakness, numbness or tingling.

Migraines can occur without auras as well, but may still differ from ordinary headaches due to the duration and intensity of the pain—debilitating migraines, in some cases, can last up to 72 hours.

If you’ve experienced an aura or intense lasting headache pain interfering with your ability to function, you may have had a migraine. Talking to a doctor can help you prevent a reoccurrence or manage your symptoms if this happens to you again.

Only a doctor can diagnose your symptoms, but here are a few general differences between migraines and ordinary headaches:

An Ordinary Headache: Causes throbbing or pain in the head. Doesn’t usually involve nausea. Is not preceded by an aura. May be painful, but does not interfere with a person’s ability to function.
A Migraine: Causes head pain, but may also involve pain, tingling or numbness in other parts of the body. Can cause nausea in addition to pain. Can be preceded by an aura, and sometimes by strange food cravings and mood fluctuations up to a day in advance. Can be debilitating and can make daily activities impossible.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010.) Migraine basics. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2010.) Headache: Hope through research. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from

Women’s Health. (2010.) Migraine. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from