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Migraine vs Headache: Similarities and Differences

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jan 20, 2023

Migraine vs Headache: Similarities and Differences

In the discussion of migraine vs headache, they are usually mistaken for one another; in fact, most people think that migraines are just severe headaches. But the truth is that there are a number of differences between migraines vs headaches, and this can help you know what to do to help with the pain.

What is a Headache?

Headaches are a type of pain, usually a throbbing pain, that affects a person’s head. Everyone in the world experiences headaches, with some people experiencing it more often than others.

People can experience headaches because of stress, being sick, eye strain, bright lights, loud noise exposure, lack of sleep or even being hungry.

Most of the time, headaches are nothing to be worried about, albeit they can cause a lot of discomfort. Dealing with headaches is also relatively straightforward, as most of the time, getting enough rest and over-the-counter-painkillers can help with headaches.

However, it’s also possible for headaches to become a serious problem. In particular, cluster headaches, which are considered as one of the most painful headaches, can affect a person’s day-to-day life.

The pain is usually described as intense pain in one eye or on the side of the head. Cluster headaches can happen on a daily basis, and can last for weeks or even months before they go away.

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are usually thought of as severe headaches, but headaches are just one symptom of a migraine. In reality, migraines are a neurological condition that can have headaches as one of the symptoms.

Things such as hormonal changes, allergies, family history, and stress can potentially trigger migraines.

People with migraines usually experience what’s called an aura, or often a visual warning before they have a headache. This includes seeing bright lights, having blind spots, or even sometimes tingling sensation in the arm or leg.

Migraines can have 4 stages, which are the following:


A few days before a migraine, people might experience associated symptoms such as a stiff neck, mood changes, constipation, and frequent yawning.


Right before the migraine starts, people can also experience an aura, which is a sign of the oncoming migraine. These can start gradually, and last for about 20 to 60 minutes.

Most of the symptoms are visual, but it’s possible to experience other symptoms as well.


This is when the headaches usually associated with migraine start. It can last up to 72 hours, and the frequency of attacks can vary from being very rare to happening every month.

Dealing with the pain can be difficult for some people, even if they get rest and take medication.


After the attack, patients can feel very tired or even exhausted. It’s also possible for them to experience the pain once more, especially if they strain themselves, or if they get stressed out.

Migraine vs Headache: Which is it?

The best way to tell if you have a migraine or a headache is to take note of any triggers.

Here are some of the things that can trigger a migraine:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain foods
  • Stress
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Weather changes
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Bright lights
  • Strong smells
  • Physical exertion

Migraines are also usually more severe and don’t always go away even if you’ve already taken medication.

Another way to tell if it’s a migraine or not is if you experience an aura before the headache happens. It’s always a good idea to pay attention to symptoms such as the previously mentioned so that you know what to do and what to expect.

What Can You Do About it?

There really isn’t one way to deal with headaches and migraines. However, getting enough rest and taking over-the-counter painkillers usually help ease the symptoms. Consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

It’s also a good idea to take note of any triggers and do your best to avoid those. This way, you can reduce the possibility of experiencing a migraine in the future.

Learn more about Headaches and Migraines here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jan 20, 2023

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