Is it a Migraine or Something More Serious?

Is it a Migraine or Something More Serious

Do you get severe headaches often? Do they sometimes keep you from going about your day-to-day activities? If so, you’re not alone. Many people suffer from chronic headaches and migraines. While most headaches are nothing to worry about, there are times when they can be a sign of something more serious. In this blog post, we will discuss the difference between regular headaches and migraines, and when one should worry about their symptoms. We’ll also provide tips on how to get relief from severe headaches and migraines.

Headaches vs. Migraines: What’s the Difference?

woman with headache

Chronic headaches and migraines are common among adults. In fact, according to the National Headache Foundation, nearly 50% of all adults suffer from some type of headache. Of those, about 12% suffer from migraines. So, what’s the difference between a regular headache and a migraine?

Headaches can be caused by a number of things, including stress, dehydration, and eye strain.  The pain of a headache is usually described as mild to severe, dull pressure. They are often accompanied by symptoms like fatigue, neck pain, and sensitivity to light and sound. In most cases, headaches are felt on both sides of the head and can last from 30 minutes to a few hours.

Migraines, on the other hand, are usually more severe and can last for several days. The pain of a migraine is described as an intense pulse or throbbing. Most migraines are felt on one side of the head, although they can be felt on both sides. They are often accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

When to See a Doctor

So, when should you worry about a headache or migraine? If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor:

  • severe pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter medication
  • new or worsening symptoms
  • headaches that occur more frequently than usual

If you regularly experience headaches and/or migraines, it is recommended to consult with a neurologist. There are certain treatments that can be used to prevent or decrease the severity of headaches and migraines.

Red Flags

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may have an underlying life threatening condition and should seek emergency medical attention immediately:

  • a sudden intense headache that peaks in a matter of seconds or minutes (thunderclap headache)
  • headaches that wake you up from sleep
  • headaches that are accompanied by fever, stiff neck, or confusion
  • vision changes, such as blurred vision or blindness
  • a headache that gets worse when lying down, coughing, sneezing, or weight bearing
  • a headache accompanied by weakness in the face, arms, or legs, numbness or coordination problems, visual impairment, language or speech problems, vertigo, confusion, or seizures

Migraines and Other Health Conditions

Research shows that migraines, especially those that occur with aura symptoms, can be linked to a variety of other medical conditions. These conditions can include:


Although it is not believed that having a migraine will trigger a stroke, the chances of having a stroke can increase in individuals who have migraines. This risk is higher in people who have migraines with aura, women, and people under the age of 45. For some reason, this risk significantly decreases in people over the age of 50.

Heart Disease

stethoscope and sphygmomanometer

Both men and women with migraines are more likely to suffer from heart disease. This risk is elevated in women who experience migraines with aura.

High Blood Pressure

While there has been some evidence that high blood pressure can lead to more migraines, more research is needed to understand the relationship between these two conditions.


People with migraines are two times more likely to have seizures. Research suggests that seizures and migraines with aura have the same genetic cause, however more research in this area is needed.

Hearing Loss

Although extremely rare, people with migraines are twice as likely to experience sudden hearing loss that happens over the course of a few days.

Depression and Anxiety

People with anxiety are more likely to experience migraines, and people with migraines and anxiety are more likely to experience depression. However, more research is needed to understand the connection between these conditions.


One study found that people with migraines are 5 times more likely to have PTSD. However, more research is needed to understand the connection between these conditions.

Preterm Birth

There is some research that has found women with migraines who get pregnant have a slightly higher risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and preeclampsia. However, more research is needed to fully understand why this happens.

Getting Relief

If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines,  you are probably looking for ways to find relief. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get relief.


Over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help to reduce pain. If you experience migraines, you may also want to try a migraine specific medication like sumatriptan. If over-the-counter medication doesn’t work, or if your headaches are severe, you may need to see a doctor. They can prescribe stronger medication and provide other treatment options.

Hot/Cold Therapy

Try placing a cold pack on your forehead for 15 minutes. You can also try placing a warm towel on your neck or back to alleviate tension.


If you are experiencing migraine symptoms, try lying in a dark room and resting.  If you are experiencing a tension headache, try lying down and placing a pillow over your eyes.

Stress Management

Try to identify the things in your life that are causing stress and find ways to manage them. This may include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, or talking to a therapist.

Alternative Solutions

You may also want to try aromatherapy or acupuncture.  These alternative solutions have been shown to provide relief for some people.

In Conclusion

In this blog, we discussed migraines, what they are, and how to know if they are something more serious. We also discussed various health conditions related to migraines, as well as ways to get relief from migraines. If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Better yet, schedule a consultation with your local neurologist!

Headshot of Premier Neurology & Wellness Center Practitioner Kashouty

Dr. Kashouty, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), practices general neurology with fellowship trained specialization in clinical neurophysiology. Dr. Kashouty finds the form and function of the nerves and muscles the most interesting part of neurology, which is what led him to specialize in neurophysiology with more emphasis on neuromuscular conditions. He treats all neurological diseases, but his main focus is to treat and manage headaches, movement disorders and neuromuscular diseases.