Migraines and Headaches
Very often people get confused between migraines and headaches. Essentially, migraines are a type of headache and in today’s blog, I will be demonstrating the differences and similarities between the different types of headaches that can occur.
Headaches can range from mild aches to very severe pains in the head and can be caused by a variety of things. They can also be the symptom of a more serious condition. There are different types of headaches manifesting different signs and symptoms that help us distinguish between the types of headaches and their causes.
General causes of headaches:
- having a cold or the flu
- drinking too much alcohol
- bad posture
- eyesight problems
- not eating regular meals
- not drinking enough fluids (dehydration)
- taking too many painkillers
- women having their period or menopause
Types of headaches
A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. Many people also have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
There are several types of migraine, including:
- migraine with aura – where there are specific warning signs just before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights
- migraine without aura – the most common type, where the migraine occurs without the specific warning signs
- migraine aura without headache, also known as silent migraine – where an aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced, but a headache doesn't develop
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they're thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition, suggesting that genes may play a role.
Some people find that migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, which can include:
- starting their period
- certain foods or drinks
There's no cure for migraines, but a number of treatments are available to help reduce the symptoms.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are what we think of as normal, "everyday" headaches. They feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, as though a tight band is stretched around it. You may also feel the neck muscles tighten and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes. A tension headache normally won't be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days.
The exact cause of tension-type headaches isn't clear, but certain things have been known to trigger them, including:
- stress and anxiety
- poor posture
- missing meals
- lack of physical activity
- bright sunlight
- certain smells
Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache that occur in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of year.
Cluster headaches begin quickly and without warning. The pain is very severe and is often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. It's often felt around the eye, temple and sometimes face. It tends to occur on the same side for each attack.
People often feel restless and agitated during an attack because the pain is so intense, and they may react by rocking, pacing or banging their head against the wall.
At least one of the following associated symptoms is usually present:
- a red and watering eye
- drooping and swelling of one eyelid
- a smaller pupil in one eye
- a sweaty face
- a blocked or runny nostril
The attacks generally last between 15 minutes and three hours, and typically occur between one and eight times a day.
The exact cause of cluster headaches isn't clear, but they've been linked to activity in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
People who smoke seem to have a higher risk of getting cluster headaches. Some cases also appear to run in families, which suggests there may be a genetic link.
Cluster headache attacks can sometimes be triggered by drinking alcohol or by strong smells, such as perfume, paint or petrol.
If you think you may be suffering from any of the above, contact our pharmacists for advice on pain management, prevention and treatments.
See your GP urgently if:
- your jaw hurts
- you have blurred or double vision
- your scalp feels sore
Call 999 urgently if you have injured your head badly or have severe headaches accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden speak problems
- Loss of vision
- Drowsiness or confusion