The Differences Between Headaches and Migraines

The International Headache Society classifies headaches into two groups: primary and secondary. Primary headaches are the problem themselves; secondary headaches happen because of some other problem. 

For example, a tension headache is a tension headache and isn’t associated with anything else. A sinus headache, however, is caused by a sinus infection. A migraine is a primary headache, and migraine itself has two categories (migraine with aura and migraine without aura). 

At Apex Medical Center, our providers understand the differences in migraine and other headache types, and can help you determine why your head hurts, as well as what kinds of treatments may help you the most. A great many people experience migraine and don’t know it, which means they aren’t getting care that could bring relief. 

Some similarities

One of the reasons so many people aren’t aware that there are differences between other types of headaches and migraine is that there are similarities. Most obviously, both migraine headaches and other types cause pain in your head!

Tension headaches are most often confused with migraines. Tension headaches can cause moderate to severe pain, just as migraines can, and both are primary types of headaches. 

The differences

There are some notable differences between migraines and other types of headaches. If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms along with your head hurting, you may be having migraines. 


If you feel nauseous or even vomit just before or during your headache, it could be a sign that you have migraine. 


If you have increased sensitivity to light and sound before, while, or after the pain in your head, you may be experiencing migraine. Some people are extra-sensitive to scents as well. 


Do you feel dizzy when your head hurts? That could mean you’re having migraine pain. 


Most headaches don’t make you extremely tired, but migraine could and often does. 

Migraine phases

Another notable difference between other types of headaches and migraine is that migraines usually happen in phases. First is the prodrome phase, which is sometimes called the “pre-headache.” Prodrome can happen hours or days before the pain begins, and may include mood swings, neck stiffness, and odd food cravings. 

Next is the aura phase. Not all people who have migraine have auras, which are sensory disturbances. Some people have blurred vision, see spots, or have blind spots that expand or come and go. You may also have numbness in your arms or slurred speech. 

After the aura phase is the headache phase, which is exactly what you would think it is. You may have mild to severe pain, and sensory input like sound, or physical activity can make it worse. It’s also possible to have migraine without the headache phase! 

During the postdrome phase, you’re likely to feel exhausted, confused, or have a sense of general unwellness. It is the final phase of a migraine. 


It’s important to get a proper migraine diagnosis, especially if your headaches are disrupting your life. There are approaches that may help you find relief. 

For many people, migraine is triggered by something specific, such as a specific food or beverage substance — caffeine is a common trigger — or an environmental factor, like a cleaning product or cologne. One of the things we may ask you to do is keep a log of your activities so that we can help you look for patterns and identify any potential triggers. You may be able to avoid migraine by avoiding certain foods. 

If you have headaches regularly, and you’re not sure why, schedule an appointment with one of the experts at Apex Medical Center. We have three locations in Las Vegas, and we’re happy to help you begin to understand why your head hurts and what you can do to find relief! 

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