Headaches and Migraines – Common Signs and Symptoms

There are two main types of 'headache'. There is the common headache that many of us get at some time or another, and the migraine headache, which is less common. Knowing the difference between a headache and a migraine can help you to alleviate the pain, and in some cases eliminate the cause of the headache or migraine.


Headache Symptoms – A headache will often begin with a feeling of tightness across the forehead, or a dull throbbing sensation between the eyes. A headache may come on suddenly, without any warning symptoms or signs. A headache will cause discomfort, but it does not often interrupt the sufferer's daily routine. A headache will not often last longer than a few hours. A headache will usually respond to common over the counter painkillers.

Migraine Headache Symptoms – A migraine will often take a few hours to develop, and will gradually get worse as it builds. A migraine often begins on one side of the head only, with a pulsating pain, rather than a dull throb. A migraine can cause severe pain, causing interruption to the day, with the sufferer unable to function properly, often causing them to become bedridden. A migraine can last from a couple of hours, to several days in the worst cases. A migraine may cause flashing in front of the eyes, making the sufferer unable to see properly. A migraine is usually resistant to over the counter painkillers.

Headache Causes

As with migraines, there is usually a 'reason' for a headache. Things that can cause a common headache include your diet, your lifestyle and underlying medical conditions.

Eye strain – One of the most common causes of a headache is eyestrain. If you find that a headache occurs after reading, spending time reading a screen, or doing some close work, then it is probably caused by eye strain. The simple solution is to get your eyes checked as soon as possible by your optician.

Stress – Another common cause of a headache is stress. For example, if you come home from a long day at work, or a 'bad' day in the home, and your head is throbbing, then it is likely that you have a stress headache. The headache is caused by the tension in your muscles. Try taking a long bath, sitting down and practising some gentle breathing exercises, or going for a walk. In fact, anything that distresses you should help!

'Weekend' headaches – Sometimes, something as simple as a break from routine can cause a headache. For example, you may stay in bed for longer in the morning, drink more coffee or take less exercise on the weekend. The solution for a 'weekend' headache is to try and keep the same getting up routine, and try to limit your coffee intake, or keep it on a par as your workday routine.

Hormones – Hormones can cause headaches. For women, the contraceptive pill can regulate hormones, and eliminate these types of headaches.

Sinuses – If you find that a headache is worse when you lean forward, then it may be related to your sinuses. You could try over the counter remedies, such as a decongestant, but if these do not work, then you should contact your doctor for advice.

Medication – Some forms of medication can cause headaches. You should always check the information leaflet with the medication, and if in doubt, consult your doctor.

Common Causes of Migraines

Migraines differ from a normal headache in that the causes are often easy to pin-point, and therefore treat. If you think that you suffer from migraines on a regular basis, then it is likely that there is a common cause that triggers the migraine. If you can pinpoint this, then you are more likely to be able to treat the migraine easily, without the need for medical intervention. One of the best, proven methods of pinpointing the cause of a migraine is to keep a diary for a while. Three months will probably be beneficial for this exercise. Make sure that you record what you eat during the day and evening, your exercise, and other lifestyle factors that you think could be relevant. Once you have kept your diary for three months, start to look for some common factors that occur at the time you experience a migraine attack. Some things to look for are:

Do your migraines occur at the same time each month? If this is true, then hormones may trigger them. In this case, you will need to visit your health practitioner to get advice.

Are there any foods that you are eating before a migraine occurs? Common foods that have been found to trigger migraine attacks are cheese, coffee, peanuts, chocolate, wine and monosodium glutamate (MSG/E621), which is found in a lot of processed foods and some Chinese take out food. Eliminating these from your diet will often have a dramatic and almost instant effect on the frequency that a migraine occurs.

Do you smoke? Smoking has been found to trigger a migraine attack.

Do you drink enough water? Dehydration can be a factor in triggering a migraine attack. Make sure that you drink enough plain water during the day. If you find that despite eliminating certain things from your lifestyle, you are still suffering migraine attacks, then you should consult your doctor for treatment.

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