woman with headache

Let’s face it, headaches are not fun. Agonizing head pain and pressure can make life miserable. For some, headaches come and go, and for others, they are a part of everyday life. But how do you really know if you are suffering from just a common headache or migraines?

Here are some quick tips to help you determine what’s causing your head to hurt:

The most common type of headache, called a tension headache, is often experienced as mild, dull pressure on both sides of the head without other accompanying symptoms. Although tension headaches can be painful, they rarely affect your ability to do your daily activities. A combination of lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, and traditional and complementary therapies can help reduce the number of tension headaches you have.

On the other hand, a migraine headache can be quite severe, causing intense pulsing or throbbing sensations in one area of your head. The pain can last from four hours to up to 3 days or even longer. Your headache may be a migraine if you have any combination of these symptoms:

  • Moderate to severe pain (often described as pounding, throbbing pain) that can affect the whole head or just one side of the head
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, or odors
  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, or abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Bright flashing dots or lights, blind spots, wavy or jagged lines

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It’s important to visit with your neurologist if you experience frequent migraines in order to rule out underlying issues. There are many treatment options available that can help limit your migraines, including a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies.

If you are diagnosed with migraines, learning your personal triggers and implementing a few lifestyle changes can be helpful, including:

  • Stay on a regular sleep schedule – Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Eat regularly
  • Drink plenty of water – Dehydrationcan cause migraine headaches
  • Avoid food triggers: (MSG), nitrates and nitrites,  alcohol, chocolate, large amounts of caffeine
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid stressful situations

While it is rare, sometimes tension headaches or migraine headaches can be a sign of an underlying health problem. If you start to experience a new type of headache, or you notice an increase in the frequency of your headaches, talk to your doctor so they can help customize a plan of care for you.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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