What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

In the United States alone, 39 million men, women and children are affected by migraines. Their list of triggers causes painful, one-sided headaches that are difficult to distinguish from normal headaches without the help of a professional.

So how can you tell the difference and spot the warning signs for both of them? Dr. Julio Cantero, neurologist at Intercoastal Medical Group, has answers.

“Migraines are considered a type of headache, but it’s mostly the location and associated symptoms that make the difference,” says Cantero. “Migraines typically occur on one side of the head with moderate to severe intensity. They can also prevent you from doing daily tasks. “

What causes a migraine? “The disease is usually inherited and can run in families,” says Cantero. “Other triggers are certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, certain smells, changes in air pressure [weather patterns], or simply changes in the daily routine. “

Symptoms related to migraines include nausea, vomiting, and photophobia or sensitivity to light. Those who have migraines go through a pre-headache phase known as the prodrome, when fatigue, difficulty concentrating and speaking, or dizziness may appear. The next phase, called the aura, causes visual disturbances such as seeing spots or temporary loss of vision in parts of the eye. While not everyone with a migraine has an aura, this is one of the most common warning signs. They can last five minutes to an hour, while a migraine can last a total of three days and occur at any time.

Those with chronic migraines have 15 or more attacks per month. A consultation with a neurologist can determine the best form of treatment needed to block and reduce these attacks. Episodic migraines occur less than 15 times a month but can still be treated.

Are there any new treatments for migraines? Calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonists, or CGRP antagonists, are a new injection that patients receive once a month to prevent migraines. Cantero says this drug can also be given in an infusion center every three months.

Another new drug called Nurtec is available in tablet form and is taken when symptoms are already occurring. Nurtec was also recently approved as a migraine prevention agent.

“Older classes of migraine drugs called triptans, which slow down overactive nerves in the brain, are now being replaced by these new treatments,” says Cantero.

Insurance can cover the cost of Nurtec and most other pill forms of migraine medication. CGRP infusions can cost patients up to $ 100 per session, depending on their health insurance company, because they have to be administered in an infusion center. The injectable drugs will cost the patient’s deductible amount; however, the full cost would be nearly $ 700 once a month.

How are headaches different from migraines?

“Headaches differ from migraines in that you can wake up without a headache and develop headaches all day,” says Cantero. “There are different types, including tension and clusters, and they appear all over the head.”

Tension headaches typically occur in the neck and head area. Cluster headaches can appear in the front or feel like a ribbon squeezing around the circumference of your skull. They typically last 30 to 120 minutes and occur around the same time most days.

According to Cantero, stress is the number one cause of tension and cluster headaches. When our neck and shoulder muscles are tense, it causes pain in the area. This tightening also pulls the skin of the skull, so that patients can also complain of pain in the forehead. Some medications can cause headaches, and reactions to certain foods can cause them too.

“Frequent headaches can be treated at home,” says Cantero. He recommends hot compresses to prevent pain and cold compresses to relieve acute pain. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or a pain reliever like acetaminophen can help relieve headaches, as can some beverages that contain caffeine. Sleep and reduction, as well as light and sound, can also help with migraine symptoms.

“When looking for warning signs and differentiating between the two, the key factor is that patients don’t feel like they are doing what they would normally do with a migraine,” says Cantero. “If you’re experiencing the prodrome and the aura, it’s a migraine. If you wake up well and develop a headache by the afternoon, it is more of a cluster or tension headache. “