Medically reviewed by Emily Maurer, NP on September 1, 2020
Migraines are an extremely common affliction — affecting as much as 12% of the population — but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically the cause of your head pain. There are a number of different headache types out there, most of which are distinguishable from a migraine.
In order to know whether or not your head pain is caused by a migraine, you need to know what the elements of a migraine are first. While everyone’s headaches are different, being able to track a few migraine symptoms will help you know what your next steps should be.
Elements of Migraine
Because doctors cannot observe or record headaches directly, it’s up to you to be as thorough in tracking your symptoms as possible. Perhaps the biggest differentiating factor of migraines is their strength: though some people may experience only moderate migraine pain, most will find their headaches to be extremely painful, even debilitating. For this reason, headaches that are only annoying or uncomfortable are unlikely to be migraines.
Another thing to keep in mind is length: migraines can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours in length. Brief, unannounced head pain is unlikely to be the result of a migraine headache.
Though pain is usually the most noticeable symptom of a migraine headache, there are a few others worth noting, such as:
- A prodrome, or period of time before a migraine strikes during which you may feel mood changes, stiffness, fatigue, or a general feeling of unwellness
- Throbbing, pulsating pain either throughout the head or on one side
- Increased sensitivity to bright light and loud noises
Some people may also experience what is called an aura, or a period before migraines begin that can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour whose such symptoms include:
- Visual disturbances like seeing sparks or zig-zag lines in your field of vision.
- Tingling on one side of the body
- Difficulties with speech or language
- Difficulty controlling movement
Migraine & Other Medical Conditions
Migraines, along with most other headache types, generally are not cause for serious concern. Sometimes, however, migraine symptoms can mimic the symptoms of more serious health risks, such as:
Strokes are caused by a lack of proper blood flow to the brain, a phenomenon which can mimic many migraine symptoms. Some common stroke symptoms, such as difficulty speaking or sudden mood changes, closely mirror the symptoms of migraine auras — this is no surprise, as the two phenomena are closely related.
While most seizures are severe enough to rule out the possibility of mistaking them for a migraine, some of the most common symptoms of epilepsy include head pain, nausea, and light sensitivity — all regular features of migraines.
If you’ve recently undergone any physical head trauma, there’s a good chance that what you’re experiencing isn’t migraine related at all. Concussions are often followed by vomiting, vision problems, head pain, and a general sense of confusion, making them easy to mistake as migraines.
The inflammation of tissue around the brain and spinal cord caused by meningitis can produce acute head pain, making meningitis easy to confuse with migraines. Presence of a rash or fever is generally an indicator that meningitis or another infection, not a migraine, is behind your headache.
If you think you may have any of these conditions or are experiencing other symptoms with extreme levels of severity, contact a medical professional immediately.
Knowing you have migraines is one thing, but getting the treatment you need is another. If you’re looking to find the right migraine treatment for you, the Nurx medical team is always here to prescribe a personalized treatment plan and provide ongoing care. Get in contact with Nurx today to take control of your migraines.