Headache or Migraine?

I’m sure we all have been feeling a little under the weather these past few weeks. Everyone seems to be sick and not feeling well thanks to the “Penn State Plague” going around. I for one never get sick, but this is the first time in a while where I am. The stuffy nose, the loud obnoxious cough, you name it, I have it. One of the most bothersome is the pain in my head. Because I am usually never sick, I had no idea if it was a headache or a migraine; what’s the difference?

The term headache and migraine are often used interchangeably when they actually shouldn’t be because they are two different things. They are similar, but there are specific distinctions between that two that can help identify what kind of pressure you are feeling in your head. Let’s first take a look at what a headache really is.

The reason why migraines and headache often get mixed up is because headache is a very broad term. Its as simple as it sounds, a pain that occurs in any part of the brain, meaning in the front, the back, the sides, anywhere. To get more specific, there are two types of headaches, primary and secondary. These explain the causes of headaches and how they differ. Primary headaches occur when there are problems with pain sensitive structures in the head, such as blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the head and even neck, this is the category that migraines fall into. These problems are considered stand alone illnesses, compared to secondary headaches, which are things like brain freeze from eating something cold, or even a concussion. Some might thing that this could be primary, but it is considered secondary because it came from an injury that caused the nerves or muscles or blood vessels to have problems and cause sensitive pain.

The only good thing really that you get out of a headache is the fact that you are only feeling this uneasiness in your head. Even though that this is not that great, migraines can have symptoms not just in the head but in other parts of the body. Some other symptoms that migraines come with besides intense head pain is also nausea, vomiting, seeing spots and flashing lots, and dizziness.

We can pretty much understand what secondary headaches come from, like the cold Berkey Creamery ice cream you had that caused that awful brain freeze. Or that concussion you got from getting hit pretty hard in football. But what about primary headaches? What about migraines?

Its hard to say what exactly is happening that causes it to happen but it has been said that medical researchers believe that migraine headaches are caused by altered blood flow and abnormal levels of naturally produced substances in the brain. This can be treated with medication, but sometimes this does not always work. The Mayo Clinic has conducted research where they have found an alternative to taking medication for migraines if the medication is not working for you. They have found that using occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) can stop or relieve pain. Their study consisted of 16 patients, 13 who were female since the majority of the population who suffer from migraine are female (70% of 32 million to be exact). After stimulation, six of the patients fell little to no relief, eight patients found 50-95% improvement of relief, and two found complete relief.

This experiment does have data, but not enough to make it very reliable. There were only 16 people used in the experiment, which is a very small amount compared to the 32 million Americans who have reported to have migraines. And the success of ONS was very low; only two people felt complete relief. There were eight who did feel improvement, but exact amounts of that improvement were not given; the Mayo Clinic gave the range at which patients ranked their improvement, but for all we know seven of the eight could have said a 50% improvement with only one person that said a high 90%.

So what’s the point? For the most of us that suffer from secondary headaches, stay away from all the ice cream and protect yourself out on the sports field. If you are one of the unfortunate that suffer from migraines, take your medication! And if that does not work for you, then maybe consider ONS. Even though it hasn’t worked for many, it has worked for some. Who knows, maybe if there were more participants in the Mayo Clinic study, there could have been a larger amount of people that said it was successful for them and they saw improvement with the feelings of their migraines.

5 thoughts on “Headache or Migraine?

  1. Isabel Linares-Martin

    I agree that the term headache and migraine often get used interchangeably. My mom gets the worst migraines, so I know how painful and different they are from a headache. I agree with you that the study conducted by Mayo clinic is not reliable because it is hard to tell what is really going on in the experiment with just 16 people. That is not enough to draw a conclusion. If you ever get a migraine, here are some things that you can do to stop it!

  2. Mackenzie Jo Pardi

    After doing a little research of my own I discovered that there’s even such a thing called “Mixed Headache Syndrome which is a combination of migraines and tension headaches. I found this interesting because if it is a combination of both then how do you really know the difference of what you’re suffering from? And how do you go about finding a remedy for them if they’re not as bad as a migraine but worse than a headache?

  3. Meghan Kelly Shiels

    I have to agree with Aubree on this one. If the ONS system has the potential to be very beneficial for millions of people why hasn’t it been tested on a broader scale? 16 people isn’t enough to base a conclusion of any kind off of, but it does provide grounds for further research. So why hasn’t anyone taken this further? Another question I had was about severity of pain. I get two types of headaches, both of which are technically considered migraines, but the pain level and symptoms are very different. I think there should be a subcategory of migraines that differentiates between manageable pain and debilitating nausea and pain.

  4. Katherine Alexandra Bartkowski

    So since headaches are just affecting your head and migraines are affecting your head and possibly other parts of your body, couldn’t you just say that headaches are just less severe migraines and consider them all migraines?

  5. Aubree Sylvia Rader

    I suffer from migraines several times a month and am typically bed-ridden for the day. I experience all symptoms including nausea, light sensitivity, even hot flashes and shaking. I never knew the difference between a headache and migraine besides the fact that a migraine is more severe. Some people believe the weather or stress may induce migraines, which would be interesting to look into. I seem to believe mine comes from stress, lack of sleep, or not enough water, but I am not sure why that would result in a headache. Another question I have is why ONS was first used in 1977, but has not been expanded to include a larger sampling size. Are there negative effects from the treatment? It would be interesting to look into the actual process more.

Leave a Reply