Migraine vs Headache

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Migraine or Headache

The line between the terms “Migraine” and “Headache” can be slightly blurred, is a migraine just a bad headache? This post contains a basic guide to the difference between migraines and headaches. 

It is common misconception that a migraine is basically a really bad headache. In part, this is true. The pain of a migraine is estimated to be at least 75% higher (on a 1-10 scale) than the pain of a normal headache, and the duration of a migraine can last days at a time, compared to normal headaches which usually resolve within a few hours. But there are several more lesser known distinctions which separate the migraine condition from a regular headache. 

A non-migraine headache has no associated symptoms besides pain in the head. In contrast, Migraineurs can experience any of the following associations. 

  • Photosensitivity: A migraine can cause an extreme sensitivity to light, causing further pain with exposure. 
  • Environmental Sensitivity: Just as with light, sounds and smells in the environment can be intensified. 
  • Dizziness: A migraine can cause feelings of disorientation, both mentally and physically. 
  • Nausea: Extended periods of nausea and vomiting often accompany migraine pain. 
  • Extreme Fatigue: Migraineurs can find it extremely difficult to sleep during an attack, which can intensify all of the existing migraine symptoms. 


A regular headache is typically easily resolved with over-the-counter remedies and a big glass of water. However unpleasant, they are not considered debilitating. Migraine pain, on the other hand, can interfere with a person’s life for several days at a time. Therefore, Migraineurs often need to take further measures to deal with their condition. 

Methods of Migraine Treatment 

  • Prevention 
  • Medications  
  • Complementary 
  • Surgical  


The first effective way to address migraines is through prevention, this can include developing stress management techniques through meditation and exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi. Getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and avoiding chemicals in foods  are also suggested. Those suffering from migraines should neither drink nor smoke. In the early stages of a migraine, getting plenty of rest in a dark room, hydration, and relaxation with a hot flannel to the forehead and neck are Migraineurs best shot at calming down a full-blown attack. 


Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to help relieve pain. Aspirin may also sometimes be recommended. However, unfortunately these forms of medication will rarely have a significant impact on a bad migraine attack. On a long term basis, if these options do not work, doctors may decide to prescribe medications that address the pain as well as the possible associated nausea and vomiting. However, these are only indicated if a person suffers from four or more debilitating events per month. 

Complementary Medicine 

With limited effectiveness of current preventive therapies, the use of complementary medicine has been increasing in headache management. This includes methods such as meditation, acupuncture and biofeedback training to complement any traditional treatments offered. The theory is that biofeedback training can help migraine sufferers to regulate their body’s response, and acupuncture  can work to calm the mind. 


For migraine patients who do not respond to the above treatments, doctors may consider using temporary nerve blocks in an attempt to identify the cause, making the block permanent if pain relief occurs. These methods of surgery can have a variable success rate, and are clearly more invasive than ideal. 

Unmet Patient Needs

Overall, there is one basic take-away: Migraines are not just headaches. Further, the current available migraine treatments are less than ideal. MAC Clinical Research continues to work hard to help drive forward research and innovation, and reduce the amount of unmet patient needs across as many conditions as possible. 

If you would like to find out more about current trials at MAC, please click here.

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