The Difference Between Headache and Migraine

Headaches and migraines can vary greatly in severity, and each can create debilitating problems for the sufferer.  The major difference between headache and migraine are the causes, symptoms experienced, and the different ways that they are treated.

Although it is not uncommon for people to refer to a severe headache as a migraine, a migraine presents with much different symptoms than does a run of the mill headache.

The Difference Between Headaches and Migraines

A headache is simply a pain located in any area of the head or upper neck. More often than not, the pain experienced during a headache is not very severe and does not interrupt one’s daily routine.

There can be a few warning signs that a headache is coming on, including; a tingling sensation or pain in the area of the eye(s), tingling of the scalp, neck pain, and a throbbing without pain in the head.

Headaches can be caused by a variety of factors, and symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. Following is a list of some common headache causing factors:

  • Stress
  • Tension
  • Hunger
  • Alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Preservatives and other food additives

Although these may be some of the common causes of headaches, illness and medications can also be a contributing factor.

Migraine headaches are much different than everyday headaches, and they can come on suddenly and seemingly without any reason at all. They have been described as an intense pulsating or throbbing sensation in one particular area of the head that comes and goes with repeat episodes, or attacks.

They can also  be accompanied by an extreme sensitivity to light and nausea and/or vomiting, and each episode can last up to several hours or even several days.

Migraine attacks can be so debilitating that the sufferer may only gain relief by finding a dark, quiet place in which to lie down and rest.

Other common migraine symptoms include:

  • Neck Pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain in the temples
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Seeing flashes of light or auras
  • Tingling sensations in the extremities, even numbness

The exact causes of migraine headaches are still not very well understood, but it is believed that genetics and environmental factors may play a significant role.

The Difference Between Headaches and Migraines

Regardless of the exact mechanism of migraines, there do seem to be some common migraine triggers, including:

  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • Bright lights
  • Certain smells
  • Skipping meals
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Physical exertion
  • Environmental changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Bright lights and sun glare
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Certain foods and/or food additives
  • Medications (such as oral contraceptives)

There are many treatments and drugs available to headache and migraine sufferers, but some of the most effective are to be found among the list of natural remedies for headaches, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Scalp massage
  • Regular exercise
  • Dietary regulation
  • Proper sleeping position
  • Regulation of sleep schedule
  • Reading under sufficient lighting
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Chinese herbal formulations and teas
  • Abstinence from unhealthy lifestyle habits
  • Acupressure & Tui na Chinese medical massage

If you are experiencing frequent headaches , migraines, or any other chronic and/or severe pain, you could try consulting your local acupuncturist.

Do you have any comments or observations you would like to add?


10 thoughts on “The Difference Between Headache and Migraine”

  1. Oh what a great subject ! I believe, as you said, that migraines are cause by the environment but also by the genetics, my mother, and her mother, also suffer from occasional migraine outburst just like me. I also, if have slept in a warm, or slept for too long, get headaches for the rest for the day. The information is very accurate ! Great article.

  2. Thank you! I always wondered this. My mom gets migraines and she goes to acupuncture to help with it and she says it helps so much. You have a really nice website full of great information. Thanks for sharing your story and all of this good advice. Thanks for your recommendations on the best personal fitness tracker. I have the same Fitness tracker you gave a link to in that article and it is so good. I like to wear it during my workouts so that I can know how I’m doing. Take care.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments and helpful observations Charles. 

      Yes, regarding the fitness tracker, after determining in my research that the one I recommended was such a good deal for the money, I purchased one myself.  I am still trying to learn all that can be done with it, but am very pleased so far.  I wear mine all the time and am amazed at how it is able to track things like the amount of time you sleep and whether it is deep sleep of light sleep.


  3. Migraines are truly a mystery.  I had them in my early to mid 20s and then they went away and haven’t come back (so far!).  As you noted in your article, a migraine is not simply a really bad headache.  Mine were accompanied by many of the symptoms you described such as aura or seeing spots (that was when I knew one was coming) and then escalate to the point where any light or sound was completely debilitated me, forcing me into a dark room with absolutely no noise.  I also wonder if they are genetic because my mom suffered from them when she was in her 40s but no other time in her life.

    Many may dismiss your suggestion of acupuncture to relieve the pain but this was literally the ONLY way I could find relief and I tried all forms of western medicine that didn’t even touch them.  My mother and I were “fortunate” as ours would only last the better part of a day.  A work friend of mine would go down for days with one and often end up in the hospital.

    More research needs to go into the cause and treatment of migraines as they can cause much lost productivity – not to mention the intense pain.  Thank you for this well-informed article!

    1. You are right to make the observations that migraines can be generic.  In fact in my family my three siblings also have had them in our lifetime.  For me they were the worst when i was still young then disappearing until after I was past middle age.  Thankfully they never came back as sever.  No loss of speech, or loss of feelings in my limbs this time around.

      Thanks for your many comments and observations.  They will be helpful to many.


  4. Great article you have written up here and I must say, you hit it spot on. There has been various misconceptions in the differentiation between migraine and headache. But it seems the two are the same just that migraine is of higher degree level of pain and it can be severe.  Migraine like you stated can alter daily activities due to its high degree of severeness. I also favor taking a non therapeutic approach to curing headache and migraine as it gives a better lasting effect. Thanks

    1. Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine headache, and I am one of them, will tell you that they have some rather unique symptoms that can be quite different from a regular headache.  Thanks for your comments and observations. 


  5. Thanks for highlighting the differences. Never knew migraine headache can come easily without explanation. It was only headache i knew little about the upper neck pain. I felt satisfied to find this through this post. I cherished the listed treatment recommended especially regular exercise, vitamin and minerals supplement. It helps to heal wound and shore up bones. You’re doing a great job.

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