Only those who currently experience or have previously experienced migraines know just how excruciating that throbbing pain in the head can be. And due to a lack of awareness on the symptoms, characteristics, as well as the complications of a migraine, many patients often can’t tell the difference between a headache and migraine.
Differentiating Between a Headache and Migraine
Headache is a term that is used widely to describe a pain felt in the head, face or neck. In stark contrast to migraines, headaches are usually caused by environmental and secondary factors, which include:
- Frequent jaw tightening
- Feeling hungry for long periods of time
- Depression or nervousness
- Lack of sleep
- Non-ergonomic body posture
- Ingesting specific types of medicine
The main type of headaches experienced include:
Tension-type headaches – This is the most common form of headache experienced. The pain suffered can be characterised through the high intensity of pressure felt. The distribution of pain, on the other hand, usually persists around the area of the head which is covered by a bandana or hat, or the areas where rubber bands are used to tie your hair (eg: bun, ponytail).
Cluster-type headaches – This type of headache involves experiencing pain on one side of the head only, followed by other symptoms on the same side, such as watery or reddening of eyes. It usually starts around the eye area and spreads to other parts of the head or neck. It is called a cluster headache due to the attacks happening in the form of clusters, with a cycle ranging anywhere between 1 to 8 times a day.
Sinus headaches – This type of headache is usually caused by an infection of your sinus tract. Patients who suffer from sinus headaches could also experience infection symptoms or other types of sinus inflammations such as a fever, blocked nose, cough or pressure in the face.
Slightly different from headaches, the primary symptom of a migraine is a throbbing pain experienced on the side of your head. The pain felt can usually range anywhere between medium to extremely painful in terms of severity. Performing physical activities or demanding movements can actually worsen the pain. Other primary symptoms that may be experienced besides pain are nausea and vomiting when exposed to stimulating light and sound, as well as stiffness in the shoulders and neck. There are 2 types of primary migraines, which are migraines with and without aura.
Migraines without aura are known to be experienced more frequently. In fact, it is said to represent 75% of the total number of migraine attacks that occur. That said, each migraine attack suffered could possibly differ from the one before. There is also a possibility that an individual can experience both migraines types throughout their entire life.
Aura refers to a discomposure of the sensors which usually occurs shortly before a migraine attack. It usually involves disruptions to your vision, such as:
- Appearance of blind spots in your field of vision
- Appearance of coloured spots in your field of vision
- Blinks of light
- Glowing flashes of light
- Tunnel vision
- Zig zag lines
- Blurry vision
- Temporary blindness
Other aura symptoms that do not involve your vision include:
- Pain and numbness
- Speech impairment
- Tingling sensation in your arms and legs
- Weakness on one side of the body
Effects and Complications of Migraine
Not many are aware that migraines can cause several worrying health effects and complications. This collective of complications can involve a degree of medium to dangerous severity. Here are a few migraine complications that can possibly occur:
1. Hemiplegic Migraine
Individuals who suffer from migraines have the tendency to develop temporary paralysis on one side of their body. This type of migraine is categorised as a migraine variation, and its symptom of paralysis is usually accompanied by speech impairment and confusion. It is extremely terrifying as the symptoms usually persist with a stroke. This form of paralysis can last from anywhere between an hour to days at a time, however the shorter attacks usually dissipate after 24 hours.
2. Status Migrainosus
A complication that rarely occurs, but is extremely agonising when experienced. Migraines with this aura can last for up to 72 hours and patients sometimes have to be admitted into a hospital due to its extremely painful nature.
3. Migrainous Infarction
This complication involves a migraine that relates to a stroke. In most cases, this migraine complication is accompanied by aura and can last up to an hour. This aura is also capable of lasting even after the migraine has dissipated, and if experienced for a long period of time, can point to an internal bleeding of the brain.
4. Lasting Migraine Without Infarction
Almost similar to a migrainous infarction complication, but is not accompanied by an internal bleeding of the brain, the aura of this migraine complication can last for weeks until the migraine dissipates.
This form of migraine can be characterised from epilepsy (a repeated form of seizures) which is triggered by a migraine attack. It usually occurs within an hour after the migraine. However, this migraine complication is one that happens very rarely.
6. Migrainous Stroke
A stroke usually occurs when the blood flow to your brain is clogged or cut off. This could be due to a leaking of blood vessels, or blockages, such as cholesterol plaque in the blood vessels. Although migraine’s relation to stroke is one that has not been understood completely, it does however relate to an aura-accompanied migraine. Fortunately, this migraine complication is also one that happens very rarely.
In short, a migraine is not just a throbbing pain in the head, it is also capable of affecting an individual’s capabilities as a whole. Furthermore, it is also capable of causing various painful and life-threatening complications. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the condition is vital in helping individuals suffering from migraines. The right diagnosis, combined with adequate practice of prevention methods, can help in avoiding the complications of migraine. However, do seek a doctor’s advice should you experience a migraine or aura that lasts for longer periods than usual.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.