For most folks, headaches are only a mild inconvenience, but not everyone is so lucky…
Unfortunately, 1 out of every 6 Americans suffers from migraines or other types of severe headaches. (1)
If this sounds like you or a loved one, then this article is for you.
It can be hard to tell the difference between headaches vs. migraines, but by the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly what to look for.
Most importantly, you’ll know how to prevent them naturally so that you can get back to enjoying life.
It’s time to show those headaches who’s boss!
Here’s what you need to know about migraines and headaches:
In a Nutshell: Headaches vs. Migraines
There are many types of headaches but migraines are one of the most severe.
Most headaches only cause pain and pressure in the scalp and forehead, but migraines are different…
They can lead to more serious symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and even temporary vision loss.
They also tend to last longer than the average headache.
Later on in this article, we’ll dive deeper into the differences between headaches vs. migraines.
For now, let’s take a closer look at common types of headaches and their symptoms…
Common Types of Headaches
Headaches can range from a dull ache to a piercing, sharp pain that brings you to your knees.
Some headaches only last for 30 minutes, while others last for weeks.
The main types of headaches are:
Tension headaches are the most common types of headaches.
More often than not, tension headaches happen when the muscles in the neck and head become too tight.
They’re usually triggered by stress, muscle tension, and anxiety.
Sinus headaches are often confused with migraines.
The pain is located around or behind the eyes.
If you have a sinus headache, you may also notice symptoms like congestion, cough, stuffy nose, fever, and facial pressure.
Any headache with the word “thunder” in the name has got to be bad news!
A thunderclap headache is a sharp pain that develops in 60 seconds or less.
If you suddenly have such a brain-splitting thunderclap headache, call 911 immediately.
Ultimately, it could be a sign of a life-threatening medical condition like an aneurysm or stroke.
Cluster headaches are similar to migraines in many ways.
Like migraines, they tend to occur on one side of the head and last for long periods of time.
Later on in this article, we’ll discuss cluster headaches vs. migraines in more detail.
Migraine headaches are the granddaddy of them all.
They’re one of the most common types and can seriously affect your quality of life.
Some people experience migraines that are so bad that they have to go to the emergency room several times a year.
Common symptoms of migraine headaches include:
- Pain behind one eye or ear
- Pain in the temples
- Nausea and vomiting
- Seeing spots or flashing lights
- Sensitivity to light
- Temporary loss of vision
Although most migraines only affect one side of the head, it is possible to have a migraine that affects both sides.
Migraine headaches can cause sharp, intense, and throbbing pain that makes it difficult to do everyday tasks.
The Difference Between Cluster Headaches vs. Migraines
Cluster headaches and migraines often get confused with each other.
However, there are some key differences that can help you tell them apart…
Signs of Cluster Headaches vs. Migraines
Cluster headaches and migraines both last for long periods of time, come back often and usually occur on one side of the head.
Aside from these similarities, cluster headaches and migraines tend to feel and act differently.
One of the main differences is that migraines may cause nausea and vision loss, whereas cluster headaches do not.
Instead, cluster headaches cause side effects like watery eyes and a runny nose.
Migraines also have special warning signs…
Some migraine patients experience flashing lights and other visual issues before the head pain even starts.
Cluster headaches, however, usually occur suddenly and without warning.
The overall sensation of the pain is different as well…
People describe migraine attacks as a pulsing, throbbing sensation.
In contrast, cluster headaches are piercing and intense.
Worst of all, people with cluster headaches can sometimes become agitated and aggressive.
Migraine patients, on the other hand, tend to be calm and quiet — all they want is a peaceful place to lie down.
Frequency and Duration of Cluster Headaches vs. Migraines
Migraine attacks typically last between 4 to 72 hours, but a cluster headache only lasts 15 minutes to three hours.
Most people have one to two attacks per month. However, roughly 1 percent of Americans get them over 15 days a month! (2)
Cluster headaches, on the other hand, can happen every other day for weeks or even months.
In severe cases, however, patients get as many as eight cluster headaches a day.
How Common Are Cluster Headaches vs. Migraines?
Migraine headaches are more well-known than cluster headaches because they’re a lot more common.
According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 37 million Americans experience migraines. (3)
That makes it the third most common illness in the world!
Cluster headaches, on the other hand, only affect roughly 200,000 to one million Americans.
4 Phases of a Migraine
Migraines progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome.
However, some patients only experience the attack phase.
1. Prodrome Phase
Some people experience early warning signs a day to two before the actual migraine attack.
This is called the “prodrome” phase and it includes symptoms like:
- Dramatic mood changes
- Frequent yawning
- Neck stiffness
- Unusual food cravings
- Increase thirst and urination
2. Aura Phase
The “aura” phase refers to warning signs that occur 10 to 30 minutes before the attack.
They’re mostly changes in vision, like seeing strange shapes, bright spots, and flashes of light.
In severe cases, you may temporarily lose vision entirely.
Other symptoms of the aura phase include:
- Brain fog or difficult thinking
- Feeling less alert
- Difficulty speaking
- Tingling or numbness in the face or hands
- Uncontrollable jerking motions
- Unusual tastes or smells
- Hearing noises or music that isn’t there
Aura symptoms begin gradually and can last between a few minutes to an hour.
3. Attack Phase
When the actual migraine attack finally begins it can last up to 72 hours.
The pain builds slowly on one side of the head and gets worse over time.
If it gets bad enough, it can lead to nausea and vomiting.
People who are experiencing a migraine are often sensitive to light and sound.
4. Postdrome Phase
The postdrome phase happens once the migraine attack starts to go away.
You may feel drained, sluggish, and exhausted.
At the same time, the sudden head movement might cause the pain to return.
Some people, however, report feeling energized and joyous during the postdrome phase.
What Causes Migraines?
Science still has a lot to learn about what causes migraines, but it ultimately comes down to imbalances in hormones and brain chemicals.
Common migraine triggers include:
- Hormonal changes in women: Migraines are much more common during periods, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Stress: Stress at work and at home can affect hormone levels and cause migraines.
- Food and drink: Dairy, alcohol, and too much caffeine can be especially bad.
- Strong smells, sights, and sounds: Sensory factors like bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells may trigger migraine attacks.
- Sleep quality: Not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of migraines.
- Physical activity: Too much intense exercise and even sexual activity may trigger an attack.
- Medications: Certain medicines like birth control pills and vasodilators.
If you’re suffering from migraines, keep a log of what you were eating, drinking, and experiencing before each migraine attack.
Before long you’ll connect the dots and know what sort of things to avoid.
Who Is Most At Risk for Migraines?
Migraines often begin during childhood and early adulthood.
Some of the biggest migraine risk factors include:
- Gender: Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 3 out of 4 migraine patients are women. (4)
- Family history: If you have family members who experience migraines, there’s a 50 to 75 percent chance that you will too. (5)
- Age: Although migraines can affect you at any age, they typically start young. The symptoms peak in the mid-30s and become less severe as you age. Roughly 2 out of 3 women experience significant improvements after going through menopause. (6)
Treating Headaches and Migraines Naturally
Although over-the-counter pain relievers can help relieve headaches, it’s best to treat them naturally with diet and lifestyle changes.
That’s because many headaches and migraines are caused by stress and diet.
The best natural treatments for headaches and migraines include:
- Neck stretching
- Deep breathing exercises
- Heat therapy
- Eliminating caffeine and alcohol
- Cutting out sugar and processed foods
- Eating organic foods
Next, let’s take a closer look at nutrition and migraine prevention…
Could Your Gut Be Triggering Your Migraines?
Researchers have found a connection between digestive disorders and migraines.
They believe that some migraines are caused by bad gut bacteria and inflammation in the belly.
In a recent analysis of all the studies published on migraines, investigators linked migraines to various gut diseases, including: (7)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Celiac disease
- Helicobacter pylori infection (bad gut bacteria)
- Cyclic vomiting syndrome
- Food allergies
- Colic in infants
How does the gut have such a big impact on the brain?
The gut communicates with the brain through the “gut-brain axis.”
Ultimately, gut bacteria affect hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine.
When you eat too much sugar and processed foods, it acts as fuel for bad gut bacteria.
As bad bacteria grow, it weakens the gut lining and exposes the blood to inflammation.
Before long, inflammation sneaks into the bloodstream and travels to the brain.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen!
One of the ways is to take probiotic supplements that contain healthy gut bacteria.
Probiotics can strengthen the gut lining, reduce inflammation, increase serotonin, and may reduce the risk of migraines.
Paying close attention to your diet is one of your best defenses against migraines.
Eating whole, natural foods and cutting out the processed junk is a great place to start.
The best foods for migraine prevention are:
- Dense, leafy greens like spinach
- Summer squash
- Cherries, cranberries, and blueberries
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish, like sardines and salmon
- Extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil
According to the American Migraine Foundation, any foods that contain vitamin B-2 may decrease migraines. (8)
As it turns out, some of the best sources of vitamin B-2 are salmon and red meat.
The key is to avoid processed versions like farmed fish and conventional beef.
Instead, stick to wild-caught fish and organic, grass-fed beef.
The same goes for all other food products!
Foods that Trigger Migraines
Avoiding bad foods is just as important as eating the good ones.
For example, food additives from processed foods can be a major trigger for migraines.
Here’s a list of foods to avoid:
- Dairy products, especially aged cheeses
- Wheat, including bread and pasta products
- Citrus fruits
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Nitrates, found in processed meats
- Foods contain MSG
- Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame
Do an elimination diet where you stop eating all of the bad foods at once, then slowly add them back one at a time.
Keep a food diary and track what you eat and how you feel afterward.
Before long, you’ll have a list of safe foods and a list of trigger foods.
You may also want to try the ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, low-carb diet.
Some studies show that the keto diet may help with migraine relief. (9)
Exercise to Reduce Migraines
Being active relieves stress, balances hormones, and may reduce migraines.
When it comes down to it, the body and brain love exercise!
Not only may exercise help prevent migraines, but it also releases feel-good endorphins.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers that improve mood and well-being.
At the same time, exercise can improve sleep, which is a key part of migraine prevention.
Plus, exercise helps fight obesity (another risk factor of migraines).
However, before you start exercising like a maniac, it’s important to start slow and ease into it.
After all, too much intense exercise can increase stress and inflammation.
It’s all about balance!
A good start for beginners is to go for a short 5 to 10-minute walk after each meal.
Walking after you eat is a great way to regulate blood sugar and support a healthy metabolism.
Yoga is another low-impact exercise that reduces stress and relieves muscle tension.
As you get in better shape, you can try other forms of exercise like running and weight lifting.
Whatever you do, make sure to listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard.
If you play your cards right, exercise can help you win the fight against headaches.
When to See a Doctor
Migraines, cluster headaches, and other types of chronic headaches often go untreated for years.
Ultimately, people suffer silently and take too many over-the-counter pain meds.
This doesn’t have to be the case!
If you have headaches regularly, pay close attention to the symptoms and report them to your doctor.
They can help recognize patterns and make some helpful recommendations.
Last but not least, remember that sudden, severe headaches are a medical emergency.
Call 911 and head to the emergency room if you experienced any of the following symptoms:
- Thunderclap headache
- Headaches with double vision, weakness, difficulty speaking, stiff neck, numbness or tingling
- A headache following a head injury, especially if the headache continues to get worse
- A chronic headache that gets worse after sudden movement, coughing, or exertion
- Any new headache pain after the age of 50
If you have any more questions about headaches vs. migraines, feel free to contact us anytime at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.