Migraine Headache Symptoms: How They Differ from Other Headaches

Quincy AdamMigraine Learn

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Is it a migraine or another type of headache? It’s good to know the difference. That’s because you may be able to prevent migraines from occurring if you learn what triggers your migraines or by taking preventive medications.

Also, it’s important to know that treatments for migraines differ from those that work with other kinds of headaches.

If you are experiencing headaches not related to another condition, especially on a regular basis, it’s best to have a discussion with your physician. Some initial legwork on your part will be very helpful for them to assess your issue. To determine what’s might be making your head hurt, consider the following.

Do You Have Other Symptoms Before Your Headache?

Typically, with migraines you will have symptoms prior to a headache. These run the gamut from feeling well and energetic to experiencing drowsiness and depression. Some people become extra-talkative, some run for the refrigerator as their appetite awakens, and others feel irritable and tense.

According to the National Headache Foundation, approximately one in five migraine sufferers experiences auras, which is unique to migraines.1 In fact, though, it could be more!

The International Headache Society’s Classification goes as far as to put the range at 25-30%.2 An aura occurs from five minutes to an hour before migraine headache symptoms. It can include visual interferences, such as seeing lights flickering, spots and wavy lines. Some people may have sensory symptoms that can include pins and needles, numbness and difficulty speaking.

Where Is the Pain?

Depending on the type of headache, the pain will be in different places. Migraine headache symptoms are usually on one side of the head around the eye or temple area.

With a tension headache, on the other hand, you will experience tightness and pressure around the head or pain on your forehead. Sometimes, it feels as if there’s a clamp on your head. Sinus headaches, not surprisingly, produce pain in the forehead above the sinuses. Headaches brought on by eyestrain are likely to manifest in the forehead and temple region.

Finally, if you have a cluster headache, you will feel the pain in one of your eyes or behind it.

What Does the Headache Feel Like?

  • Migraine headache symptoms seem almost like having a jackhammer in your head. You will experience an intense throbbing or pounding that can be debilitating. Also, you may be hypersensitive to anything that touches your head to the point where the simple act of brushing your hair is uncomfortable.
  • Tension headaches are constant, and while they feel uncomfortable, they do not incapacitate you.
  • Cluster headaches have a burning or piercing quality. They can be either continuous or pounding, borrowing a little from symptoms of migraines and tension headaches.
  • You’ll experience the pain and pressure of a sinus headache in your forehead. Caused by congestion, symptoms become more intense with any sudden movement.

Are There Symptoms Beyond the Headache?

If you have a migraine that is not preceded by an aura, it will be accompanied by at least one other symptom: nausea or sensitivities to either light or noise.

Other clues that you have a migraine include sweaty and cold hands as well as looking pale. Also, you may find that participating in your regular workout routine aggravates your symptoms.

Of course, if you have a sinus headache you will also have symptoms beyond your headache. Usually, however, you will notice a runny nose, cough and, perhaps, fever before complaining about your headache.

Be Aware and Be Prepared

The bottom line: if you have not been diagnosed with chronic migraines and are evaluating your headache to determine which type it is, consider where the pain is, what it feels like, if there are additional symptoms and whether it comes with warning signs. This detective work will help your doctor to determine the proper professional diagnosis so he/she can outline potential treatments for prevention and relief of your headaches.

1 “Migraine.” http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/migraine/. Accessed April 4, 2016.
2 “Migraine with Aura.” http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/migraine-and-aura/. Accessed May 17, 2016.