Distinguishing Between Tension Headaches and Migraines

Tension headaches and migraines are two of the most common types of headaches. While they may have similar symptoms, they are caused by different factors and require different treatments. Understanding the differences between the two can help you choose the right treatment plan for relief. Tension headaches are usually caused by stress, worry, or tiredness.

They cause the muscles of the scalp, neck, and jaw to tighten, resulting in a dull pain that is felt on both sides of the head. This type of headache is usually not debilitating and can be managed with over-the-counter medications. Migraines, on the other hand, are more severe and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and visual disturbances. The pain is usually localized on one side of the head and is described as a throbbing or pulsating sensation.

Migraines can be debilitating and require prescription medications for relief. Mixed tension migraines are a combination of tension headaches and migraines. They have symptoms of both types of headaches and are found somewhere in the middle of the headache continuum. It is believed that migraine comes first and causes tension that triggers a tension headache.

If you experience a headache that is very different in quality or severity than your usual headaches, or that is associated with unusual symptoms or an elevated temperature, you need immediate medical evaluation to exclude serious underlying causes. Knowing if you have a tension headache or migraine will help you choose an appropriate treatment plan for relief. Although many people believe that any moderate to severe headache is a migraine, there are specific criteria regarding the type of pain and the associated symptoms which lead to the diagnosis of migraine. Doctors trained to identify different types of headaches, such as internal medicine specialists, neurologists, or allergists, can help diagnose the cause of headaches.

Identifying and treating headaches as early as possible can help a person participate in preventive treatments to minimize the chance of having another headache. If tension headaches are life-altering or if you need to take medicine for headaches more than twice a week, see your doctor.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

Award-winning food advocate. Subtly charming bacon practitioner. Alcohol enthusiast. Proud travel aficionado. Incurable twitter scholar.

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