The Real Difference Between Migraines And Headaches

If you've ever had a headache that won't go away with the help of over the counter medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it may not be a headache at all. It could, in fact, be a migraine. As Brandeis Brockman, CRNP, BSN, MSN, nurse practitioner at Delancey Internal Medicine, told Penn Medicine"Migraines impact over 37 million men, women, and children in the United States, but fewer than 5 percent of those affected have been accurately diagnosed and received appropriate care." Here's the real difference between a headache and a migraine.

A headache is basically any general ache in your head experienced by every single person at least once in their lives. "It's most commonly described as a tight band-like feeling around the head," Susan Hutchinson, M.D., a board-certified family practice physician and founder of Orange County Migraine & Headache Center told Women's Health. A migraine, on the other hand, is a neurological condition that comes with many more severe symptoms and lasts far longer.

Migraines can bring on nausea and vomiting

According to Lawrence Newman, M.D., neurologist, and director of the Headache Division at NYU Langone Health, migraines commonly affect one side of the head. "It's associated with nausea and vomiting, or light and sound sensitivity," he explained. Speaking to Good Housekeeping, he continued, "Typically, it prohibits you from routine activities — you want to lie down or rest until the attack goes away — and a migraine can last four to 72 hours, so it's pretty impressive in its ability to do harm." Other side effects include difficulty speaking, irritability, food cravings, depression, fatigue, and more (via Healthline). For some, migraines can be completely debilitating.

Given the causes of the headaches and migraines are very similar — stress, hormones, diet, lack of sleep, and alcohol intake are all triggers — it's easier to know that you have a migraine if you are experiencing at least two of the common side effects beyond the usual feeling of a headache (via Harvard Health Publishing).