Headache or Migraine? Know Signs, Risk Factors and Management Tips from Doctor

There is a fine line between headache and migraine. Awareness regarding migraine is very important for healthy living.

Chanchal Sengar
Written by: Chanchal SengarPublished at: Jul 08, 2021Updated at: Jul 08, 2021
Headache or Migraine? Know Signs, Risk Factors and Management Tips from Doctor

Nearly one in ten people worldwide suffer from migraine, a common neurological disease that leads to a disabling headache. Despite its debilitating impact and burden, migraine management in India remains vastly neglected, under- or misdiagnosed and undertreated. Besides, many people do not even know that they have migraine because they rubbish it considering a headache. Thus, it is important to understand the difference between headache and migraine for better management. Read this article as Dr. Mukul Varma, Senior Consultant Neurologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi differentiates the two.

Migraine Vs. Headache

  • Migraines are often confused with headaches due to the overlapping symptoms and inadequate awareness.
  • A headache results in unpleasant mild to moderate pain, causing pressure, usually on both sides of the head or stretching around your forehead or the back of your neck.
  • In comparison, a migraine results in severe, throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, typically on one side of the head.
  • This is often accompanied by other symptoms – nausea & vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and phonophobia (sensitivity or the fear of loud sounds).

Instead of ignoring the symptoms or relying on short-term solutions, seeking a diagnosis is important.

Migraine Vs. Headache

Risk of migraine is higher in women

As per Dr. Mukul Varma, women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men. They also experience migraines differently than men, with an increased risk of migraine recurrence, greater disability and longer attack durations.

Although migraine is more prevalent in boys than in girls during childhood, changes are observed typically post-puberty. Female sex hormones are a major risk factor of aggravating migraines, and periods of hormonal changes- such as during menstruation, can trigger migraines. During pregnancy, Migraine reduces. For women, migraines typically peak in their 30s.

Also Read: 60% of Women Suffer From Menstrual Migraine, Obstetrician Explains Possible Reasons

Keep An Eye On Risk Factors of Migraine

Risk Factors of Migraine

There are many factors that trigger migraines. Raising awareness can be key to avoiding misdiagnosis, so you or your loved ones can promptly act and avoid triggers to effectively manage your condition. Being aware of any family history of migraines is the first step, as this can alert you to be more careful. Risk factors include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Changes in sleep patterns (including inadequate sleep or jet lag)
  • Foods including excessively salty and processed foods
  • Environmental stimuli including bright lights, loud sounds and strong, pungent smells
  • Psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, are also strongly associated with increased migraine risk

The impact of migraine on daily life

Migraine is ranked as the seventh-highest specific cause of disability in the world. By nature of its symptoms, it can have significant impacts across the spectrum of one’s daily life. A migraine attack can occur more than twice a month on an average globally, and as per an Indian study, patients are affected as frequently as more than thrice a month. Its effects span personal and professional domains, leading to difficulties and absenteeism at work, problems with interpersonal relationships, loss in productivity, challenges with household activities, and even limitations in terms of social events and interactions. Those affected by migraine can lose up to approximately 5.8% of their productive time as a result. The high burden makes the need for timely and effective care more imperative.

Also Read: Ice Cream Can Give Headaches Too. Know What Is An Ice Cream Headache And Its Symptoms

How to manage migraine

How to manage migraine?

Identifying triggers, as these may vary from person to person, and avoiding them can help reduce the frequency or severity of episodes. However, prevention may not always be possible.

  • Given that migraine is a chronic neurological condition, seeking help from a neurologist or trained medical specialist is important as this can lead to early diagnosis and management.
  • Establishing an integrated, holistic treatment plan encompassing preventive and acute migraine medication, along with behavioural therapy and lifestyle changes, can help individuals better manage the condition.
  • Depending on an individual’s symptoms, attack frequency, severity and burden, healthcare practitioners can recommend useful solutions to prevent attacks, alleviate symptoms and reduce the impact of the disease on one’s quality of life.

With the pandemic exacerbating multiple disease triggers, including lifestyle changes, sleep disturbances, increased stress and longer screen times, there is an urgent need to ensure people are taking care of themselves. Persistent headache can aggravate migraine and you cannot escape post that. Thus, become vigilant towards the signs and symptoms of migraine to manage the condition better.

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