Headaches and migraines, what’s the difference? [2022]

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine? It’s a very common question. 

Headaches and migraines are both among the most prevalent and debilitating health conditions in the country. In fact, headache disorders (including migraine) have been ranked the 3rd highest cause of disability and years lost globally. Despite both being very common conditions, not many people know the difference between the two. 


Probably the main difference between headache and migraines is the severity of pain. 

  • Headaches range from mild-moderate usually, or a 2-6/10 on a pain scale.
  • Migraines are often worse and pain is moderate-severe, usually >7/10 on a pain scale

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Type of pain

Headaches symptoms can vary a lot but most commonly the type of pain experienced with a headache vs a migraine is slightly different

  • Headaches are usually described as an ache, pressure, or tightness around the head feeling. E.g. people with tension-type headaches describe it as a tight band across the head ranging from mild-moderate in intensity
  • Migraines are usually described as throbbing, pulsating, pounding or even a stabbing type pain. The pain is more severe than a headache and it usually experienced on one side of the head, but can be both or may swap sides

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Symptoms for both headaches and migraines also differ, migraines typically have more neurological symptoms oppose to headaches.

  • Headaches symptoms are commonly head pain and sometimes associated neck pain. Tension-type headache sufferers can experience nausea and some mild light sensitivity on occasion but these symptoms aren’t as common.
  • Migraine symptoms vary widely. You can actually have a migraine without having head pain at all. Migraine sufferers may also experience aura, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, vertigo, and sensitivity light/sounds/smells. 

A lot of people do say they get migraines when they have a bad headache however, a more accurate description may just be a severe headache. Regardless of what type of headache you have, the treatment approach for both conditions is very similar. The Watson Headache Approach can help you understand what type of headache you experience as well as treating it to reduce or ideally resolve your headache symptoms. To read more about the Watson Headache Approach read here

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