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Headaches vs Migraines: What’s the difference and how can we prevent them?

Eurgh. Headaches. We all get them, and probably all hate them. They can leave us feeling unable to work, concentrate or do anything that doesn’t involve laying down in peace. But usually, once we’re on top of painkillers and hydration, it’ll fade shortly. For those of us who really suffer from headaches, how do we know when it’s serious? According to the NHS website, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 15 males suffer from migraine headaches. Read on to find out the difference between your standard headache and a migraine, and how we can ease them.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a condition in which an individual experiences a painful headache, one that feels like a throbbing or pulsing in usually one side of the head, but often experienced at the back or both sides of the head. It can last from anywhere between 4 hours and 3 whole days. When experiencing a migraine, it’s common to feel sick and sensitive to light and sound. It’s not really known what causes migraines, but it’s thought to be a result of ‘abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain’.

Different types of headaches

A tension headache tends to spread across both sides of the head, and is the most common form of headache. Common causes include eyestrain, stress and hunger, and they can be chronic.

A sinus headache often occurs when one is sick or congested. These are caused by swelling of the sinus passages, which results in pain behind the cheeks, nose and eyes. They can feel more intense first thing in the morning or when you bend forward.

A cluster headache is more painful and happens around the same day on a daily basis. They can occur up to several times a day for months at a time! They happen as a result of dilation in the blood vessels of the brain, and can be caused by altitude, bright lights and physical exertion.

Spot the difference

These are the common types and symptoms of headaches, but where does a migraine sit within all of this? Let’s take a look at the differences.

Firstly, a headache is just one symptom of a migraine, and they can range in severity and length for different people. Other symptoms of a migraine include:

  • Feeling sick

  • Increased sensitivity to light, smell and sound

  • Dizziness

  • Extreme fatigue

What are the causes?

No one knows for sure what causes a migraine - unfortunate, right? But there are many known triggers that can bring on a migraine.

Again, it’ll be different for everyone, but some common triggers include:

  • Hormonal shifts and changes in women

  • Allergies

  • Genetics

  • Environmental factors - change in weather, stress, food and a lack of sleep

What can we do about it?

Painkillers can only do so much, and when there’s kids screaming, dogs barking and partner’s complaining, getting peace and quiet isn’t always an option. On top of your paracetamol, remember to stay hydrated - migraine or not, it’ll help us feel better.

There are also a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help with treating migraines, so be sure to get advice from your GP to ensure you get something suitable for your symptoms.

For those that suffer with regular migraines, there are a few things we can implement into our daily lives that could help with preventing migraines.

Changes to our lifestyle

Regular exercise is something we tend to go on about a bit here at Beingwell, but if it’s gong to stop those dreaded migraines - get moving! Even just a 20 minute walk around the block or to the shops could be enough each day to keep the pain away.

In terms of our diet, make sure you’re drinking a good amount of water (not to gross you out but, enough to make the colour of your pee as light as possible!). Eating a nutritious and balanced diet and avoiding any foods that might trigger your migraines is also crucial for prevention.

When we are suffering from a migraine, these things become even more important! A lack of sleep is also a trigger for migraines, so if you’re not sleeping too well, head over to Kip Advisor and access all our expert sleep tools.

Regularly taking part in relaxing activities like yoga or meditation can also be beneficial to prevent the symptoms of a migraine. Focusing on the breath is a great way to relax the body, and we could all do without that extra tension and stress, but especially if we’ve got a headache!

Final thoughts: Headaches are just a symptom of migraines, and they can cause a lot more serious symptoms alongside the sore head! Take it easy when a migraine strikes, we all need rest and a bit of quiet to ease the pain. But keeping on top of our wellbeing is crucial to preventing future migraines and headaches in general! And don’t forget, if the symptoms don’t ease or they’re a regular occurance, seek professional medical advice from your GP.




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