Many people think that a migraine is just a description of an intense headache, but there are many other things that distinguish a migraine from common tension headaches. Understanding the difference will help you find the right treatment for your headache.
Before the Headache: Warning Signs and Triggers
Most people with migraines (perhaps 90%) have a family history of migraines. If you know about migraines in your family, then it’s much more likely that you have them, too.
Migraines also often come with a long list of warning signs. Many people with migraine experience some symptoms days before the migraine, called the prodrome, which may include symptoms like:
- Fatigue or sleepiness with frequent yawning
- Unusually high energy
Not all migraine sufferers experience prodrome, but if you have a prodrome, you have migraines.
Some migraine sufferers experience an aura just before their migraines. Auras are usually bright lights, but may be other hallucinations or even vision loss. Auras can affect other senses, too, causing strange smells or sensations in the skin. They can even cause cognitive or language problems.
With tension headaches, the primary warning signs are elevating stress and stress-related behaviors, such as bruxism, clenching and grinding of the teeth. Pain in other muscles, such as the neck or jaw can also come before the headache.
During the Headache: Pain and Other Symptoms
Most people will say that migraines tend to be more intense than tension headaches, but pain is subjective, and it’s hard for people to compare their pain to that of others. With migraines, though, pain tends to be on one side of the head, while for tension headaches pain is on both sides and sometimes all around the head. Migraine pain can even have focused spots of intense pain, behind the eye or ear.
Migraines tend to have more additional symptoms related to their pain. These include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sounds. Aura effects may also persist during the headache.
TMJ Treatment Works for Both
But whether you suffer from migraines or tension headaches, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can contribute to the frequency and severity of your headaches. Muscle tension in the jaw can contribute to tension in the head or put pressure on the trigeminal nerve, which triggers migraines. TMJ treatment reduces this tension, making it less likely to trigger headaches.