Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints and can range from mild to severe. But how do you know if the pain in your head is from a headache or something more serious? Many people struggle to differentiate between a typical headache and a migraine, which is a chronic headache disorder.

What is a Headache?

A headache is a condition that causes pain in the head, face, or neck, and there are more than 150 types, falling into two main categories: primary and secondary headaches. 

Primary Headaches

A primary headache is a condition that arises on its own, not from an underlying medical illness. Some common primary headaches include: 

  • Tension headache: characterized by a dull, throbbing sensation that affects both sides of the head. Tension headaches are often caused by stress and anxiety
  • Sinus headache: caused by inflammation and congestion in the sinuses. This type of headache is often accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, nasal congestion, and a sore throat.
  • Cluster headache: a rare but painful type of headache. They are characterized by a severe, throbbing pain that usually only affects one side of the head and often includes other symptoms such as congestion, eye problems, and nausea. Cluster headaches occur in clusters, meaning that they take place in groups or series of attacks over a period of weeks or months. 

Although tension and sinus headaches can typically be alleviated with over-the-counter pain-relievers like Ibuprofen or Aspirin, cluster headaches may require prescribed medications to help reduce or eliminate pain. 

Secondary Headaches

A secondary headache is one that is caused by an underlying medical condition or illness, such as: 

  • Sleep disorders
  • Tumors 
  • Head trauma 
  • Hypertension
  • Withdrawal from medications
  • Infection
  • Stroke

What is a Migraine?

A migraine is a type of primary headache disorder that is characterized by severe head pain, along with other symptoms such as: 

  • Nausea
  • Pain in the temples
  • Visual disturbances
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

There are four stages of a migraine attack that may occur, but not everyone experiences each phase. 

1. Prodrome Phase

The first stage is the prodrome phase, which can occur hours or even days before the actual pain arrives. This stage is when warning signs arise that an attack may be coming, such as: 

  • Food cravings
  • Mood changes 
  • Neck stiffness

2. Aura Phase

The second stage is the aura stage, which refers to the sensory disturbances that people experience before or during a migraine attack. In this stage, people may have difficulty moving their eyes from one object to another without double vision, as well as: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Blind spots
  • Flashing lights
  • Zig-zagging lines 
  • Floaters in the line of vision

Although a majority of people will experience a visual aura, a sensory aura may also occur, causing a tingling sensation or numbness in one of your limbs or slurred speech.  

3. Headache Phase

The third stage of a migraine is the headache or pain stage. This phase is when the person feels a mild to intense throbbing or pulsing in the head, often on one side. Along with pain, affected individuals may experience nausea, fatigue, or increased sensitivity to light and sounds. However, some people with a migraine may experience this condition without developing a headache. 

4. Postdrome Phase

The fourth stage is the postdrome phase, which can last from a few hours to several days. During this phase, the pain from the headache has subsided, but people may feel: 

  • Exhausted 
  • Drained
  • Anxious
  • Generally unwell

Causes of Migraines

While headaches normally have a traceable cause, the cause of migraines is unknown. However, there are certain triggers that tend to provoke migraines, including: 

  • Genetics or family history: people with family members who suffer from migraines are more likely to experience migraines. 
  • Environmental factors: external triggers that may cause migraines include weather changes, lack of sleep, elevated stress, or different types of foods.
  • Allergies: due to a rise of inflammation in the body, allergies can trigger migraines.

Contact Olympian Clinical Research

At Olympian Clinical Research, we understand the debilitating effects that migraines can have on a person’s quality of life. To learn more about this painful condition and how to better treat it, we are conducting a clinical trial on migraines. If you believe that you may be experiencing migraines, rather than just typical headaches, contact Olympian Clinical Research today to see if you are eligible for our upcoming clinical trial.