Migraine vs. headache

IS your headache giving you a headache? You feel the pain but you don’t know for sure why it hurts; and you don’t know how to make it better, either! Over-the-counter meds no longer work, and all you can do is crawl under the bedcovers and sleep off the pain.

But don’ t raise the white flag just yet—identify the enemy, and you can fight back.

STEP 1: Educate yourself

First it is essential to differentiate the two major players when it comes to head pain.

Oftentimes, you will have what you believe to be a migraine, when in reality it is just a different type of headache. These are the most common types of headaches. Keep in mind that you should always consult your doctor for any type of severe, reoccurring headache for proper diagnosis and treatment.

• Cluster headaches recur over a period of time or hit you in “clusters” over a few weeks to several months. They are one of the most severe types of headache, usually felt around or behind the eye. They can be 100 times more intense than a migraine attack. They may cause tears, stuffy or runny nose, flushing, or swelling of the eyelid. Pain can last from a few minutes to over 2 hours and can hit up to 8 times in a single day.

• Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, around the eyes or bridge of the nose. The pain varies from mild to severe and is usually accompanied by other sinus symptoms, such as green or yellow nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling. Pain may be worse in the morning. According to a recent study, 9 in 10 “sinus headaches” are really migraines.

Migaines Headaches

• Pain is moderate to severe and can be disabling

• Pain is characterized by a throbbing feeling, usually in a particular area of the head (often one-sided/unilateral).

• Pain lasts from 4 72 hours or more, and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound

• Cannot be treated with painkillers • Pain is mild to moderate

• Pain is felt in the entire head region

• Pain is short-lived

• No accompanying symptoms such as nausea or vomiting

• Can be treated with painkillers

• Ocular headaches are a very common type of headache. The typical ocular headache has visual symptoms and may or may not be followed by a headache. If a headache does follow the visual symptoms, it is called a migraine headache.

• Tension headaches are most common among adults. They may be described as mild to moderate, constant band-like pain with the feeling of pressure or tightening of both sides of your head. Tension headaches may last from just a few minutes to a few days and occur several times per month.

• Rebound headaches are associated with the overuse or misuse of over-the-counter pain relievers. Exceeding label instructions can cause you to have a rebound headache. Usually, discontinuing the medication or gradually tapering the medication dose will lead to more easily controlled headaches.

Migraine has been called an “invisible” disorder, often under diagnosed and under-treated. They have invisible, far-reaching effects too.

When your son misses you at his basketball game, your colleague shoulders your work, or family vacation plans have to be postponed, they can take a great toll on relationships and performance.
Migraine affects three times more women than men, because of hormonal changes. Heredity also plays an important role: 70% to 80% of all sufferers have a family history of the disease.

STEP 2: Keep a migraine diary and consult with your doctor
Keeping a migraine diary is a simple but effective way to help your doctor treat your migraine, effectively. It will help you better understand the triggers and unique patterns of your illness. Record your migraine attacks, sleeping patterns, diet, and other factors you deem relevant. The diary also monitors the success or failure of treatments and medications. Have the attacks become less frequent since you started taking a certain medicine? Are they less severe? Are there side effects? The diary provides you with a tool to answer all these questions if you use it accurately.

When should you see your doctor? If your headaches:

• Are beginning to interfere with your daily activities and pain relievers have stopped working for you

• Are accompanied by nausea or vomiting

• Occur on the same side part of the head

• Change in severity

STEP 3: Take one treatment at a time

Home remedies and non-drug treatments may be tried. This includes things like aromatherapy, lifestyle changes, improved eating habits, biofeedback, chiropractic, and hot or cold packs.

Understanding migraine triggers is a big step on the way to knowing how to treat a migraine.

A migraine is actually a neurological disease and not a psychological disorder. Since its exact cause remains to be unknown, much of the focus of treatment has been trying to stop the migraine chain reaction before it starts.

A migraine can occur a trigger (see the list below) makes the blood vessels in the brain overreact. Triggers may work alone or in combination with other triggers. Not all triggers affect all migraine sufferers, and different ones may affect different people at different times. But one thing is clear, knowing your particular triggers and discussing them with your doctor may help you limit your exposure to them or even avoid them altogether.

STEP 4: Know your migraine triggers

Triggers vary from person to person so be alert to the circumstances when your migraine happens. Some of the more common triggers are:

• Nitrates and tyramine found in aged cheeses and deli meats (cheddar, Brie, luncheon meats, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami)

• Onions

• Chocolate

• Citrus Fruits

• MSG (found in Chinese food, junk food/instant mixes)

• Alcoholic beverages (especially red wine)

• Caffeine withdrawal: Abruptly cutting caffeine from your diet may trigger a migraine.

Changes in your daily schedule

Migraines are more common when stress is over, at times such as vacations or on weekends (post-stress). Oversleeping, not getting enough sleep, skipping a meal, a rest after a hectic schedule, are all triggers.

Hormonal changes

Ovulation or menstruation cause hormones to fluctuate, which may bring about a migraine. This includes changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, birth control pills or HRT (hormone replacement therapy)


Some drugs may trigger a migraine.

Weather and environmental changes

A rapid drop in barometric pressure may trigger an attack, so as high temperatures, humidity, or rain. Bright lights, loud noises, smoke, fumes, strong odors such as perfume or fresh paint, or changes in altitude may also be triggers.

Keep a healthy lifestyle. A healthier body is a pain-shielding body. A lifestyle dosed with proper exercise, good nutrition (low fat diet, low in processed foods and high on whole grains, fruits and vegetables), good posture (avoiding a lot of repetitive motion or standing/sitting for long periods of time), and avoiding bad habits like smoking and drinking (alcohol) equals a powerful migraine preventative, and a happier, healthier self. –Romina Tobias/Working Mom Magazine June 2008 issue


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