What is the Difference Between Tension Headaches and Migraines?

Tension headaches and migraines are two of the most common types of headaches, but they have distinct differences. Tension headaches are usually caused by stress, worry, or tiredness and cause the muscles of the scalp, neck, and jaw to tighten, resulting in a dull pain that occurs on both sides of the head. Migraines, on the other hand, are much more severe and cause a throbbing or pulsating pain that is usually only on one side of the head. Pain or sensitivity to light may increase when you have a migraine, and some patients also experience nausea or vomiting.

Managing a tension headache is often a balance between practicing healthy habits, finding effective non-drug treatments, and using medicines appropriately. Treatments are available for tension headaches, but migraines may require prescription medications to relieve headache and preventive medications to reduce how often they occur. Learning your own personal triggers can help you take proactive steps to minimize or prevent a migraine headache. It can be difficult to distinguish between tension headaches and migraines as they have some similar symptoms.

However, migraine headache is much worse than a tension headache and can cause severe, stabbing pain that lasts from a few hours to several days. Medication overuse headaches occur when a person takes too many medications to treat a primary headache. Alcohol often causes a headache during the “headache cycle”, but it will not trigger a headache in the “no headache” cycle. Although it may be tempting to treat headaches at home, repeated or recurrent use of medications can cause a condition known as a drug-overuse headache, a condition in which headaches occur almost daily.

When you understand what type of headache you have, you'll be better equipped to detect triggers and prevent pain from occurring in the first place. Identifying and treating headaches as early as possible can help a person participate in preventive treatments to minimize the chance of having another headache.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

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

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