What’s the difference between a migraine and a headache?

What’s the difference between a migraine and a headache?

The terms headache and migraine are often used interchangeably. And it’s pretty understandable. 

The pain from a migraine and tension from a headache are very similar. The discomfort may also be felt on either one or both sides of the head. 

But what’s the difference between the two?

Headache vs Migraine

Headache disorders cover a wide range of nervous system conditions that cause painful symptoms. These include headaches and migraines.

What’s a headache?

There are several types of headaches but medical experts classify them into two – primary and secondary. 

Primary headaches are independent conditions causing discomfort/pain in the head, face, or neck areas. 

Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are headaches that result from other medical conditions such as stress or medication overuse.

Tension headache is the most common type of headache. Over 40 percent of the population experience it.

As its name implies, tension headaches cause intense pressure around the head. It can be episodic (headaches that happen every 10-15 days of the month) or chronic (headaches that occur more often).

What’s a migraine?

A migraine is a type of primary headache that causes severe pain and other symptoms. 

People suffering from migraines may experience recurring symptoms, which doctors call episodes.

A migraine episode may occur in four distinct phases, although not everyone may experience all four:


This phase is characterized by sensitivity to light, sound, or smell, food cravings, unexplained mood changes, and frequent yawning.


The aura pertains to any sensory disturbance occurring before or during a migraine attack. This phase can affect a person’s vision, speech, or touch.


Migraine headaches can be mild to severe. The pain can get worse with physical activity and exposure to certain lights, sound, and smell.


This phase occurs once the headache subsides. During the postdrome phase, people usually feel exhausted, confused, or unwell.

Is it a headache or a migraine?

If a headache worsens with activity or with exposure to certain light, smell, or sound, then it could be a migraine. 

Whether it’s tension headache or migraine, you should see a specialist if your headache is interfering with your ability to function or if it’s greatly affecting your quality of life.

Greater Knoxville ENT has specialists who can help you. To request an appointment, you may call us at (865) 244-4396.





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