Here's How To Tell The Difference Between A Brain Aneurysm And A Migraine

Believe it or not, not all headaches are alike. While some symptoms may present similarly, there are at least 14 distinct types of commonly experienced headaches, reports Healthline. Depending on the type of headache, there may be significant variation in duration, pain severity, location, and more. While some headaches may strike sporadically, others may be ongoing for days or weeks at a time.

Migraines are among the most commonly experienced headaches (via Healthline). According to research published in the JAMA Network, they are thought to affect more than 10% of the global population. Characterized by painful pulsing and throbbing often unique to one side of the head, migraine headaches can take hours or days to subside (per Mayo Clinic). They can also be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as auras — otherwise known as visual disturbances including spotting or sudden flashes of light.

While some types of headaches are not considered harmful, others can be a warning sign that emergency medical attention is needed, such as in the case of a ruptured brain aneurysm (via Northwell Health). However, it's easy to write off a ruptured brain aneurysm as a migraine due to their overlap in symptoms. Because a brain aneurysm can be life-threatening, it's important to be able to differentiate the two.

Differences in pain onset

Approximately 6.5 million Americans have unruptured brain aneurysms, reports the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. While this may sound scary, anywhere from 50% to 80% of brain aneurysms don't rupture and most measure less than 1 inch in size. Occurring when a blood vessel in the brain begins to bulge, a severe headache can set in if the aneurysm ruptures (per WebMD). It is often described as the worst headache one has ever experienced.

The pain of a ruptured brain aneurysm comes on sharply and suddenly, much like a "thunderclap," according to experts at WebMD. It's this difference in pain onset that sets migraines and brain aneurysms apart. Although both can be intense, a migraine tends to develop slowly, whereas a ruptured brain aneurysm will strike at full intensity instantaneously. Additionally, one may lose consciousness or experience seizures in conjunction with a ruptured brain aneurysm, and these are not symptoms associated with migraines.

It's important to note that migraines do not prompt a brain aneurysm to develop or rupture (via WebMD). Some experts believe migraines may potentially indicate an increased risk for a brain aneurysm, however further research is needed to establish these claims.

If you experience a thunderclap of severe headache pain, seek emergency medical care. Other signs you need immediate medical attention for your headache include fainting, vomiting, double vision, vision loss, numbness, weakness, fever, neck stiffness, speech impairment, or confusion. Northwell Health also recommends getting immediate medical care if you experience severe pain you've never experienced before.