Migraine Vs Headache: How To Tell The Difference

Around 50 per cent of the world’s adult population suffers from headache disorders. Do you also suffer from the throbbing pain in your temples? Keep reading to find out if it is a headache or a migraine.

By URLife Team
10 May 2023

We've all had that nagging, throbbing pain that just won't go away. Headaches can be a real struggle, both literally and figuratively, and they can make even the simplest tasks feel like a Herculean effort. It can come suddenly and without warning, a sharp pain that makes it impossible to do anything else. For many of us, a headache is just a minor annoyance that can be easily treated with some rest, relaxation, and over-the-counter pain relievers. But it’s more severe and chronic for many others. When your headache does not seem to ease even after hydrating or OTC medication, it's time to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause and find an effective treatment plan to manage the pain.


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As per a 2023 survey report by Statista, about 4 per cent of Indian adults (30-44 years old) suffer from migraine. Teenagers accounted for about 0.6 per cent of the respondents with migraine issues, while young adults (early 20s) accounted for 2 per cent.


Did you know that there are different types of headaches, all caused by different factors? The duration of a headache can vary widely depending on the type of headache and its underlying cause. For some people, a headache may last only a few minutes or hours, while for others it can last for days.


Related story: 8 Things You Should Do When You Have A Headache


Difference Between Migraine And Headache

A headache is a pain or discomfort in the head or neck region. Headaches can vary in intensity, location, and duration, and can be caused by a wide range of factors, including tension, stress, illness, or underlying medical conditions.


Whether it's a tension headache from stress and anxiety that feels like a jackhammer in your brain, or a cluster headache that strikes with sudden, intense pain, understanding the different types of headaches and what causes them can be key to finding relief.


Types of Headaches

1. Tension-type headache

A tension headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days, and it typically feels like a constant, dull ache on both sides of the head. 

Causes of tension-type headache:

  • Hunger
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Lack of sleep  
  • Sleep apnea
  • Neck stiffness
  • Poor posture
  • Stress
  • Eye strain

2. Migraine

Migraines, on the other hand, can last from 4 to 72 hours, and they're often characterised by throbbing pain on one side of the head, along with nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and other symptoms.


3. Cluster headache

Cluster headaches, which are less common but more severe, can last from 15 minutes to several hours and can occur several times a day for several weeks or months at a time, with periods of remission in between. Symptoms of cluster headache usually include severe pain on one side of the head, pain behind the eye, red, watery eyes, congestion, and restlessness or agitation.


Related story: Can Your Pelvic Floor Be Responsible For Your Headaches?



All migraines can be headaches, but not all migraines are headaches. Headache is a vital symptom of migraine which is just a single part of the whole condition. Migraine is a type of headache that is often accompanied by a throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head, along with other symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. Migraines can be draining and may interfere with daily activities.


The exact cause of migraines is not fully understood, but researchers believe that they are related to changes in the brain and its interaction with the nervous system. Migraine occurs when serotonin or estrogen levels change. Serotonin levels may affect both sexes while fluctuating estrogen levels affect women only. According to a 2023 study issued in StatPearls, around 17 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men globally suffer from migraines. Migraines in women are often associated with these fluctuating hormone levels and may also explain why women are more likely to have migraines than men.


Common triggers for migraines

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hormonal changes (such as during menstruation)
  • Certain foods or drinks (such as alcohol, caffeine, or aged cheeses)
  • Lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns
  • Environmental factors (such as bright lights or strong smells)
  • Physical exertion or overexertion


Symptoms of a migraine

  • Throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or smells
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision or visual disturbances (such as seeing flashes of light or zigzag lines)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly


If you experience migraines, it's important to work with your healthcare provider to develop a management plan that can help you identify triggers and manage symptoms. This may include medications, lifestyle changes, and other therapies to help prevent and manage migraines. UR.Life Occupational Healthcare Centre (OHC) can play a critical role in the prevention, management, and treatment of migraines, helping you to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.


So, if you're tired of suffering in silence with a pounding headache or migraine, learn more about this common ailment and how you can fight back.


Schedule a consultation with an Apollo Hospitals doctor, here. 


Managing Headaches

Headaches can often be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, which are readily available at most pharmacies and drug stores. Here are some common OTC treatments for headaches:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or aspirin can help reduce the pain associated with headaches.
  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help reduce stress and tension that can contribute to headaches.
  • Cold or hot packs: Applying a cold or hot pack to the affected area can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with headaches.


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Managing Migraines With UR.Life


By identifying and addressing potential triggers for migraines, such as stress, poor sleep habits, or dietary factors, occupational health professionals can work with you to develop strategies to reduce your risk of developing migraines.



If you are experiencing migraines, our experts can work with you to determine the type of migraine you have and help you understand the underlying causes and contributing factors.



UR.Life occupational health centres offer a range of treatments for migraines, including medications, physical therapy, and behavioural therapies such as biofeedback and relaxation techniques. These treatments can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and improve overall quality of life.



Dealing with migraines can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. Occupational health professionals can provide support and guidance throughout the process, helping you to cope with the impact of migraines on your daily life and providing resources and referrals as needed.


Take care of your body and mind to feel your best. Sign up here to unlock holistic health. 


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