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Headaches and Migraines - Differences

When describing symptoms to a doctor, it can be important to give precise information so they can help. How do you know if the pain you feel is a headache or a migraine?

A headache is a generic term - an ache in your head. You could have a headache because you fell and slammed your head against the wall. You could have a headache because you just ate cold ice cream very quickly and the act caused pain within your head. You could have a headache because your kids are screaming and the stress is getting to you.

A migraine is a very specific term. It involves the sympathetic nervous system getting involved, which can lead to nausea, spots before the eyes, seeing an "aura", and much more. This is not something simply involving a "pain in the head" - it is a full body involvement.

So, really, when you are asking if something is a headache or a migraine, you are REALLY asking if this situation you are in is a migraine or not. It can be challenging because migraines can be caused by a wide variety of triggers, and cause a wide variety of reactions.

So take it step by step.

Determine the Trigger
Keep a log. See if your body-involving headaches are happening after any specific thing like smoking, drinking alcohol, certain foods, certain sounds or noises. Even perfumes can trigger a migraine attack.

Note the Symptoms
Once the headache begins, look to see what happens. With a migraine, your body goes through certain steps - releasing stomach contents into the intestines, shutting down blood flow, increasing your sensitivity to light and sound. Whatever your body is doing, make notes of that.

Note the Frequency
If this event only happens once and never happens again, you're probably just happy that it has stopped. However, if it happens multiple times a week, you're probably desperate for answers. Keep your log so you can go into your doctor with the list of cause and effect. That will help him determine if this really is a migraine hitting you, and brainstorm with you over ways to reduce the occurrences.

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