There is often a lot of confusion surrounding migraines and headaches and whether one is just a more painful and intense version of the other. While both afflictions can cause pain in the brain, there are also some fundamental differences between the two.
Migraines are frequently described as excruciating and can even be debilitating. You can think of a headache as a symptom of some types of migraines. Migraines can also trigger other unfavorable symptoms. Let’s take a look at some similarities and differences between the two, and some helpful suggestions that help explain how to recognize, manage, and try to prevent migraines.
Comparing Headaches and Migraines
Migraines are a chronic condition and unpredictable neurological disorder that often result in headaches for the sufferer. Migraines are typically described as a throbbing pain, while a headache is frequently more of a dull ache. Migraines often occur right behind the eyes or are located on one side of the head.
This is a blanket term that includes a wide range of nervous system conditions that cause head pain. The World Health Organization reports that approximately 50% of adults worldwide are affected by headache disorders. People that experience headaches generally have symptoms involving pain in the upper neck, face, or head with varying degrees of intensity.
Types of Headaches
Headaches have been divided into two main categories based on causes and symptoms:
- Primary headaches
- Secondary headaches
These are typically caused by independent conditions that result in head, face, or neck pain. A migraine would be an example of a primary headache.
Another type of primary headache is a tension headache. This is a very common classification that generally causes a band of extreme pressure around the head. Tension headaches can either be chronic or episodic.
Cluster headaches are primary headaches that can cause focused pain on one side of the head, quite often behind the eye. The name cluster refers to multiple headaches that typically strike around the same time on a daily basis, which may last for weeks.
Hemicrania is a persistent primary headache that often varies in its intensity. It usually occurs on one side of the head and may be chronic or episodic.
These types of headaches are the result of existing illnesses and medical conditions. Some sources of secondary headaches might include:
- Head trauma
- Alcohol abuse
- Chronic inflammation
- Sleep disorders
Classified as a primary headache type, migraines are typically associated with recurring symptoms, episodes, or attacks. Headaches are only one example of the range of symptoms that can be experienced with chronic migraines.
Some other symptoms that normally accompany a migraine may include:
- Oversensitivity to light or sound
- Blurred vision
- Seeing flashing lights
- Affected sense of touch or smell
- Mood swings
- Frequent yawning
- Difficulty with language
Symptoms typically vary from case to case and will most likely occur at the onset and throughout the course of a migraine.
Migraines in Seniors
For people prone to migraines, they commonly experience an initial migraine before the age of 40. Migraines tend to decrease in intensity as we get older. If you are experiencing migraines as senior it is crucial to contact your doctor or a healthcare professional immediately.
For seniors experiencing regular migraines, it may be an indicator of other health conditions, and could possibly be the sign of a silent brain injury or stroke. A silent stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, most often by a blood clot. Silent strokes don’t usually come with any other apparent symptoms, so they can difficult to recognize.
While headaches are extremely common in seniors, migraines are not often as prevalent.
Treatment and Prevention
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to treating migraines. Some things to avoid to stop migraines before they happen, include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Excess caffeine
- Unhealthy processed foods
- Strong odours
- Bright flashing lights
Migraine triggers are different for everyone, so it is critical to be vigilant and observant in trying to pinpoint the source.
After the onset of a migraine, it is recommended to get rest in an unlit area, and plenty of fluids. Stay away from the TV or computer screens, bright lights, and loud noises. A visit to the doctor or the emergency room may be required in more serious cases. Talk to your doctor about possible medications used to treat migraines. A concentrated change in lifestyle can often be very helpful.