Do You Know the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine?

For many migraine sufferers, likening a migraine to a headache is like comparing an iceberg to an ice cube. A migraine is more than a headache, and like an iceberg, when one starts moving in things get serious quickly. Find out how to tell the difference between a migraine and a headache, what treatments are available for each condition and ways to head off future occurrences of head pain.

Headaches are an inconvenient and annoying, but common condition. A headache is, well, exactly what it sounds like – pain in the head. This pain ranges from pressures to dull aches to sharp pains. The duration of a headache ranges from an hour or two to a week for severe cases. Headaches occur on both sides of the head, and some specific areas include the forehead and neck.

There are several different kinds of headaches, but the most common type is a tension headache. This type of headache is triggered by stress and muscle tension. Some headache sufferers experience cluster headaches, which present pain on one side of the head and come in waves. Still, others experience sinus headaches, which are frequently mistaken for migraines because of similar symptoms, and occur as a result of sinus infection or barometric pressure changes in the atmosphere.

An individual with these types of headaches typically use over the counter pain relievers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, to treat their pain. Some patients may also find that relaxing, increasing fluid intake or using an ice pack helps to relieve their symptoms and pain.

Migraines are a type of head pain characterized by severe or intense pain coupled with nausea or vomiting, pain in the eyes or ears, vision disruption or seeing flashes or spots and sensitivity to light or noise. Migraine pain usually occurs on one side of the head, is very intense and makes tasks like walking or talking difficult. Some migraine patients also experience seeing an aura, or flashes of light, before their migraine begins.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, 37 million Americans aged 12 and older suffer from migraines. The majority of migraine patients has episodic migraines, but 1.5 million suffer from chronic migraines, which mean they have a migraine every day. Women are three times as likely to suffer migraines as men, and the condition is most common in patients age 40-60.

Migraine sufferers report that their condition greatly impacts their quality of life, and the AMF reports that migraine sufferers are twice more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who do not experience migraines. Migraine patients also report having to miss work, school and other activities than their peers.

People who suffer from migraines often are forced to treat their condition with prescription medications to find relief. While these medications help relieve some symptoms, their side effects also negatively impact the sufferer. Some medications cause digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea, and some patients become chemically dependent on the medication. Some migraine medications have also caused patients to have migraine episodes if they go off the medication for any reason.

“Prevention is the best way to treat migraines,” says Dr. Michael Budler, M.D. Budler is an interventional radiologist who treats migraine patients with SPG block, or SphenoCath, therapy. “Migraines are triggered by a stimulus that impacts the trigeminal nerve and sphenopalatine ganglion, located just behind the nasal cavity. When this happens, the body’s response is to increase blood flow, which causes pain,” says Budler. Migraine inducing stimuli are different for each individual, but include noise, fluorescent lighting, changes in atmospheric pressure, certain foods and food additives and some odors.

Budler performs the SPG block procedure on migraine patients in his Grand Island, Nebraska, clinic. During the SPG block, Budler applies a numbing agent is applied to the SPG using a small catheter inserted through the nose. “The anesthesia from the SPG block lasts 3 to 4 months, on average, and prevents the patient from suffering migraines during that time, allowing patients to enjoy their life and activities again,” says Budler.