Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference Topic Guide

Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference:

Migraine is one of over 150 types of headaches. Other common types of headaches include tension, cluster, sinus, and hormonal. Pain is the most common symptom of all headaches, and the severity of the pain depends upon the type of headache. Migraine pain is severe, pulsating, and is located only on one side of the head. Other symptoms and signs of a migraine headache are eye pain, sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells, nausea, and vomiting. Migraine is more common in women, and may increase in frequency and severity during menopause.

Signs and symptoms of other common types of headaches.

  • Tension headaches: The pain of a tension headache starts at the back of the head and upper neck. The pain is described as a band-like tightness or pressure on both sides of the head that may spread over the entire head. The pain and pressure is felt over the eyebrows, is sporadic, and usually varies in intensity. Tension headaches are not disabling.
  • Cluster headaches come in groups or clusters that are separated by pain free periods of months to years. The episodes of pain last from 30 to 90 minutes, occur around the same time of day, and the pain is excruciating around or behind one eye. Men have cluster headaches more often than women.
  • Sinus headaches are caused by bacteria or viral infection of the sinuses. The infection causes inflammation of the sinuses, which results in pain. The pain and pressure from a sinus headache is felt around the area of the sinuses. Other symptoms are facial tenderness and swelling, nasal congestion, stuffy nose, earache, and jaw pain. Sinus headaches usually are caused by sinusitis or a sinus infection.
  • Hormonal headaches are caused by hormonal fluctuations in the body and can be caused by hormonal birth control, menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. The pain and symptoms depend upon the cause of the headache.

There is no specific test to diagnose migraines. Treatment for a migraine and other types of headaches depend upon the type.


Blanda, M, MD. "Cluster Headache." Medscape. Updated: Apr 26, 2017.

Brook I, MD. "Acute Sinuitis." Medscape. Updated: Jan 05, 2017.

Chawala JC, MD. "Migraine Headache." Medscape. Updated: May 10, 2017.

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