Migraines and headaches: your complete guide

Doctor's advice / Sanitas Medical Center

Migraines and headaches: your complete guide

Headaches and migraines are common health issues that many people experience at some point in their lives. While they both involve head pain, they have distinct characteristics and require different approaches to management. Let's explore what headaches and migraines are, their causes, differences, prevalence, impact on productivity, risk factors, prevention strategies, symptoms, treatments, and how they affect children. 


Is it a Headache or a Migraine? 

Headaches, including migraines, affect a significant portion of the population worldwide. Migraines alone affect approximately 12% of the population, with women being three times more likely to experience them than men. The impact of headaches on productivity is substantial, with individuals experiencing an average of four days of reduced productivity per month due to headache symptoms. 

 So what is a headache exactly? A headache is a common ailment characterized by pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck area. It can vary in intensity and duration, and it may be accompanied by other symptoms such as sensitivity to light or noise. 

 Migraines are a type of headache disorder that involves recurring episodes of moderate to severe pain, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Unlike regular headaches, migraines can significantly interfere with daily activities and may last for hours or even days. 


What is the difference between a headache and migraine? 

Here's a quick breakdown to help you understand the differences better: 

  • Pain Characteristics: Headaches typically present as a dull ache or pressure on both sides of the head, whereas migraines often involve throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head. 
  • Additional Symptoms: Migraines are often accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound, which are less common in regular headaches. Migraines can also cause visual disturbances such as flashes of light or blind spots called Aura in some cases. 
  • Duration: Migraines tend to last longer than regular headaches, sometimes persisting for several hours or days, whereas headaches may resolve within a few hours. 
  • Impact on Daily Life: Migraines can be debilitating, causing significant disruptions to daily activities, including work, school, and social engagements, whereas headaches may be less severe and easier to continue your daily routine. 


Causes, Prevention, and Treatment 

Headaches can be caused by various factors, including stress, muscle tension, dehydration, poor posture, and underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure or sinus infections. On the other hand, the cause of migraines is not fully understood yet, but several factors may contribute to their development, including genetics, environmental triggers, hormonal fluctuations, and neurotransmitter imbalances. Some individuals may be more susceptible due to family history or certain medical conditions. 

 While it may not be possible to completely prevent headaches and migraines, several strategies can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. Prevention strategies for both include: 

  • Staying hydrated 
  • Maintaining good posture 
  • Managing stress 
  • Avoiding known triggers such as certain foods or smells 
  • Making ergonomic adjustments to work/home tasks 
  • Getting regular exercise 
  • Good sleep hygiene 
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle 

Acute treatments aim to relieve pain and other symptoms during a migraine attack and may include over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture or relaxation techniques. 

For individuals with frequent or severe migraines, long-term management may involve lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and regular follow-up with a healthcare provider. 

 Preventive medications may be prescribed to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes over time. 


Headaches and Migraines in Children 

Headaches and migraines are not limited to adults; they can also affect children, although the presentation and management may differ from that in adults. Children may have difficulty describing their symptoms. Headaches in children are often associated with other conditions such as infections, vision problems, or emotional stress. Younger children may exhibit symptoms such as abdominal pain, irritability, or changes in behavior rather than classic headache symptoms. Additionally, children may experience shorter migraine episodes compared to adults. 

Frequent migraines in children may impact their ability to keep up with academic responsibilities or participate in extracurricular activities. Migraines in children may also disrupt family dynamics and require adjustments to accommodate their needs during migraine attacks. Some children may outgrow migraines as they reach adolescence or adulthood, while others may continue to experience migraines throughout their lives. Early diagnosis and appropriate management can help improve outcomes and reduce the long-term impact. 

 Many medications commonly used to treat migraines in adults may also be suitable for children, dosages and formulations may need to be adjusted based on age and weight. Additionally, non-pharmacological approaches such as relaxation techniques, biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and lifestyle modifications may play a more significant role in managing migraines in children. 

 Parents and caregivers need to pay attention to any changes in their child's behavior or complaints of head pain and seek medical attention if necessary. For chronic migraine sufferers, healthcare providers will tailor treatment plans to meet the unique needs of the child and involve parents or caregivers in the management process. 


Managing Migraines While Pregnant 

Migraines during pregnancy can be a challenging experience for many women, as they navigate the complexities of managing their symptoms while ensuring the health and well-being of both themselves and their unborn child. The exact cause of migraines during pregnancy is not fully understood, but hormonal fluctuations, changes in blood volume, and altered neurotransmitter levels are believed to play a role. Additionally, stress, fatigue, and dietary factors may contribute to the onset or exacerbation of migraines during pregnancy. 

While migraines themselves are not typically harmful to the developing fetus, certain factors associated with migraines may pose risks during pregnancy. For example, women who experience frequent or severe migraines may be at increased risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, preterm birth, or low birth weight. Additionally, some migraine medications may not be safe to use during pregnancy and could potentially harm the fetus.   

It's essential for pregnant women who experience migraines to communicate with their healthcare provider about their symptoms and treatment options. Healthcare providers can offer personalized guidance and monitor both maternal and fetal health throughout pregnancy. 


Get Care at Sanitas 

In summary, migraines and headaches are two distinct conditions with different characteristics, causes, and impacts on daily life. While headaches are common and often manageable with self-care measures, migraines can be more severe and debilitating, requiring medical intervention for relief. By understanding the differences between the two and implementing preventive strategies, individuals can better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. 

For help managing migraines, call 1-844-665-4827 to schedule a Sanitas Medical Center near you today or get virtual care 24/7 using the mySanitas app.   

Find a Location 

Find a Doctor