Is it a migraine or a headache?

Published on Jul 19, 2019
Medically reviewed by Krishan Thiru, MBBS, MHA, FRACGP

Many people use “migraine” and “headache” interchangeably to describe their throbbing or aching head. Answer the questions in the ID Migraine screening tool below, learn the differences and why it is so important to have a correct diagnosis from the doctor.

Take the test: ID Migraine Screening Tool

Headache vs migraine. Migraine screening tool. In the last three months, has a headache limited your activities for a day or more? are you nauseous or sick? does light bother you?

This tool is for screening purposes only. Please talk to your doctor for a medical diagnosis.

What are migraines and their symptoms?

If you answered YES to two or more of the questions in the screening tool above, the chances are that you may be experiencing migraines.

A migraine is a collection of neurological symptoms that can be debilitating. The hallmark of a migraine is moderate-to-severe throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head, with one-third of attacks affecting the entire head. One or more of the following symptoms may also accompany migraine episodes: visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. Migraines can last from 4 to 72 hours.

Some people experience them with an aura—a strange light, unpleasant smell, or confusing thought—which can act as a warning sign that a migraine is coming.

Migraines are three times more common in women than men and usually occur in people with a family history of it. There are medications to help people with migraines, and certain lifestyle changes may help.

What are headaches and their symptoms?

If you didn’t answer YES to two or more of the questions in the screening tool above, the chances are that you may be experiencing headaches, as opposed to migraines.

There are different types of headaches, including tension or stress headaches, sinus headaches, cluster headaches and medication overuse headaches. They usually feel like dull pain or pressure affecting both sides of the head.  It doesn’t mean that the pain you are experiencing is any less, though. Headache pain can also range from mild to severe.

When to consult your GP

Many people don’t want to see the GP, because when it happens—the pain can be so debilitating—that you can’t get into the clinic, or maybe you feel like it’s just something you cope with on your own. But the earlier you seek medical attention, the better.

Why?

  1. Specific treatments for migraine and other types of headache can be different. This is because of the underlying neurological issues in migraine. You need to work with the doctor to get the appropriate management.
  2. Headache or migraine can be a signal that there is an underlying medical condition. So, you’ll want to get it checked out.

Your headaches or migraines may be disruptive, but the good news is that they are treatable. Its impact can be greatly reduced and for some, preventable. If your current treatment regimen does not control your symptoms well, or you have any recurrent head pain, be sure to speak to your GP.

To get ready for your appointment, we recommend that you keep track of your symptoms in our FREE headache diary.

[1] [2] [3]

References

  • 1. Lipton RB, et al. A self-administered screener for migraine in primary care. Neurology 2003;61:375-382
  • 2. Burch R. Migraine and Tension Type Headache. Med Clin N Am 2019;103:215-233
  • 3. Rizzoli P, et al. Headache. Am J Med 2018; 131: 17-24
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After reading this article, how likely are you speak to your GP about your headaches or migraines?

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