Headache vs Migraine: What They Are & Ways to Manage Them
June is recognized as National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, shedding light on the debilitating impact these health conditions can have on individuals' lives. Chronic migraines and headaches often lead patients to withdraw from their daily activities, making it crucial to understand the differences between the two and explore potential ways to manage or prevent them.
Today, we’re discussing the distinction between a migraine vs headache, defining what characterizes chronic migraine or headache, and providing potentially effective methods to effectively manage these conditions.
Headache vs Migraine: Understanding the Difference
First of all, what’s the difference between a migraine vs headache? While “migraines” and “headaches” are sometimes used interchangeably or spoken of in overlapping descriptions, they are distinct in terms of their symptoms, intensity, and underlying causes.
A headache is a general term used to describe pain or discomfort in the head or neck area. Comparing a headache vs migraine, you’ll see headaches can range from mild to severe and can be categorized into different types such as tension headaches, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, or cervicogenic headaches (secondary headaches caused by another ailment). The pain from a headache vs migraine typically affects both sides of the head and is often described as a dull, throbbing, or pressure-like sensation.
Note: Cluster headaches are an exception to this rule, as they often affect the individual unilaterally (only on one side).
A look at a migraine vs headache, on the other hand, shows migraines are a specific type of headache characterized by recurrent or intense episodes of pain. Headaches are just one symptom of a migraine. They’re often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Migraines are frequently one-sided but can affect some individuals on both sides of the head. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several days and may be fully debilitating. Some individuals may experience "migraine aura symptoms" before the onset of a migraine, which can manifest as visual disturbances or other neurological symptoms.
Recurring Migraine vs Headache: When Is It Chronic?
When comparing a migraine vs headache, you may also begin wondering at what point either is considered chronic. Chronic migraines or chronic headaches are diagnosed when an individual experiences these conditions on a frequent and long-term basis. According to the American Migraine Foundation, chronic migraines are defined as having a headache on 15 or more days per month for at least three months, with at least eight of those days meeting the criteria for migraines. Chronic headaches, on the other hand, occur for 15 or more days per month but do not meet the specific criteria for migraines.
Ways to Manage Migraines and Headaches (or Prevent Them)
No matter a headache vs migraine, everyone wants to find relief as quickly as possible. While there is no definitive cure for migraines and headaches, there are various ways to prevent headaches and migraines that could work for you in addition to any treatment prescribed by your doctor. Each individual is different, so don’t be disheartened if it takes trying a few of these methods to see what works most effectively for you.
A few potential ways to prevent headaches and migraines are:
- Lowering blood pressure naturally
- Avoiding possible triggers
- Minimizing and managing stress
- Staying hydrated
- Keeping active
1. Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally
High blood pressure can trigger headaches in some individuals. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and implementing strategies for how to lower blood pressure naturally can potentially reduce the occurrence of migraines and headaches.
Consider integrating some of these simple lifestyle adjustments into your routine in order to alleviate high blood pressure:
- Maintain a balanced diet
- Limit your sodium intake
- Get enough exercise
- Keep stress to a minimum
Some people have also turned to home remedies for lowering blood pressure like using a zero gravity chair. The advanced reclining design of zero gravity chairs elevates the legs above the heart level while evenly distributing weight along the body. This reclined body positioning, called the zero gravity position, promotes better blood circulation, which lowers blood pressure and serves as a catalyst for the many potential health benefits of zero gravity chairs.
You’ll find that a comparison of prevention methods for a headache vs migraine show both may benefit from lower blood pressure, making this a potentially effective tip for both ailments.
2. Avoiding Headache or Migraine Triggers
This year, take the time during National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month to learn about possible triggers and how to avoid them. Avoiding headache and migraine triggers is an essential aspect of preventing and managing these conditions. While triggers vary from person to person, identifying and avoiding them can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines.
Some common triggers noted in comparisons of a headache vs migraine include:
- Trigger foods: Some foods may be a trigger for headaches and migraines. Limit your consumption of aged cheeses, processed meats, and foods high in sodium. You should also be mindful of alcohol and caffeine intake, as these may be headache or migraine triggers in some people.
- Hormonal changes: Many women track the menstrual cycle to identify patterns of migraines. While options may be limited, you can discuss hormone management options with your doctor.
- Poor sleep quality: Sleep deprivation is a common trigger found when comparing triggers for a migraine vs headache. Stick to a regular sleep routine and learn how to get more restorative sleep. Try to create a sleep-friendly environment and practice good sleep hygiene.
- Bright lights: Sensory stimuli such as bright lights have been seen as commonalities when comparing triggers for a headache vs migraine. Consider wearing sunglasses in bright environments and avoid triggering lights. This includes common holiday migraine triggers like twinkle lights.
3. Minimizing and Managing Stress
Experts studying ways to prevent headaches and migraines agree that minimizing and managing stress is a major factor. Stress is a significant contributor to migraines and headaches, elevating blood pressure and causing a series of internal bodily processes that affect your hormones.
A popular tool for stress management is the zero gravity chair. In the zero gravity position, excess pressure is removed from the lower back and the user is able to more deeply relax while their body heals. It helps reduce muscle tension, provides pain relief, and lowers stress levels naturally. This zero gravity position also helps release tension in the neck, shoulders, and back, which are common areas where stress-related tension can accumulate and trigger headaches and migraines.
In addition to using zero gravity chairs for stress relief, other techniques can be incorporated into your daily routine. Calming breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga may work as effective ways to reduce stress and help you avoid headaches or migraines. Taking breaks throughout the day, engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy, and practicing mindfulness can also contribute to stress reduction.
4. Staying Hydrated
Another common way to manage or prevent headaches and migraines is to make sure you stay hydrated. Dehydration is a common trigger for both, so staying hydrated throughout the day is crucial.
A good rule of thumb is to try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. This could be more if you engage in physical activity or live in a hot climate where you sweat more often. Consider carrying a reusable water bottle with you as a reminder to drink water regularly. You can also incorporate foods with high water content in your diet such as cucumbers, watermelon, oranges, lettuce, and celery.
5. Keeping Active and Exercising
Staying active and exercising regularly not only benefits your overall health but they may also be ways to prevent headaches and migraines. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers and mood boosters.
Being active promotes better blood circulation throughout the body, including to the brain. This increased blood flow can help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches or migraines by delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain more efficiently. Exercise also contributes to stress management, better sleep quality, and other contributors to headaches and migraines, making it a simple lifestyle inclusion that could make a huge impact.
Each year, National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month serves as a special opportunity to help you understand these conditions better. Knowing how to treat or manage a headache vs migraine is vital to living with these conditions. Small lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthier diet, avoiding triggers, or choosing a zero gravity chair for stress management could have a positive impact on your quality of life. As always, before beginning any new health routine, be sure to consult your doctor for guidance.