Migraine vs. Headache

6% of men and 20% of women suffer from migraine headaches. How do you know if you have migraines or if you suffer from tension headaches? It’s often difficult to tell the difference between migraines and other types of headaches. Both migraines and tension-type headaches can cause a lot of pain, and both can be caused by identifiable triggers, or set in without warning. While it may be difficult to differentiate between migraines and tension headaches, there are some key migraine symptoms that can help you determine whether you have migraines or a tension-type headache.

Frequent headaches

Migraine headaches are typically a recurring problem. The rate at which you experience headaches, alone, isn’t a good indicator as to whether you suffer from migraines, however.

Chronic headache conditions are those that occur more than 15 days per month, and include both tension-type headaches and chronic migraines.

Migraines typically interfere with your ability to function whereas tension headaches do not. If you have light or noise sensitivity as well as nausea or vomiting, you may be experiencing a migraine. 

It’s possible to have frequent headaches that aren’t migraines, and you may have migraines that don’t occur frequently enough to be a chronic issue.

Talk to your doctor if you experience chronic headache pain.

Throbbing pain

Migraines often cause severe, debilitating pain. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by throbbing or pulsing pain. It’s also possible, however, for the pain to be constant rather than the pounding typically associated with migraines.

Where is the pain located?

Tension-type headaches usually affect both sides of the head. Migraines can cause pain on both sides of the head, or just one side of your head. You may feel the pain in your temple, the neck or behind your eyes or ears. 


Some people with migraine headaches experience warning signs before symptoms occur. An aura – tingling in the face or hands, flashes of light, visual disturbances, or other symptoms heralding a migraine attack – is a good indication of migraines. However, the absence of an aura doesn’t mean you don’t have migraines. Migraines can set in without any warning whatsoever.

Other symptoms

Tension-type headaches aren’t usually accompanied by other symptoms, although it’s possible. Migraines may also cause symptoms such as sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and vomiting.


The duration of your headache doesn’t necessarily indicate which type of headache you’re experiencing. Tension headaches can last a few minutes or a few days. Migraine headaches typically last for a few hours or a few days.

Most tension headaches can be relieved with over the counter medicine. Migraines, however, may not go away with these types of medicine.


Different things can trigger migraines headaches including stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, hunger, light, or hormonal changes (in women).

Both tension headaches and migraines may be triggered.

Migraine treatment

There are many different options that may help with migraine treatment.

Identifying and avoiding triggers, stress management, adjusting diet, and improving sleep habits are all ways to help manage migraine symptoms. Some migraine headaches can’t be managed with self-care alone, however. Medication is often used to treat migraines.

For more information on migraines, visit the American Migraine Foundation

If you experience frequent headaches or headache pain that won’t go away, talk to your doctor.