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Why a Migraine is More Than Just a Bad Headache

Posted on 30.09.2019
Over the years, certain medical and mental health terms that have somewhat lost their meaning. “I’m so OCD”, “He was a total psycho” or “I think I’m getting a migraine” are all common phrases that often aren’t meant to be taken literally. However, the danger is that this kind of loosely accurate usage can erase the seriousness of the real condition.
There are several differences between a migraine and a simple headache, although there can be crossover in terms of symptoms. There are different kinds of headaches ranging in severity, from mild pain in the forehead, temples, or back of the neck (which are often classed as tension headaches) to potentially incredibly painful and chronic cluster headaches.  
With migraines, head pain is often only one of the symptoms. Others include:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain behind one eye or ear
  • Pain in the temples
  • Seeing spots or flashing lights
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Temporary vision loss
There is a lot of variation within migraines in terms of duration and severity of pain. Some can be so intense that the sufferer seeks medical help, but even milder cases can often result in an inability to concentrate on tasks or get through one’s day.
For the most part, migraines fall into two different categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An aura refers to feelings and sensations a person experiences before the migraine comes on. They can happen 10 to 30 minutes before an attack, and can include:
  • Feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking
  • Seeing flashing lights or unusual lines
  • Feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands
  • Having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch
The symptoms can sometimes begin as long as a day before the actual migraine hits. This is known as the prodrome phase and may include constipation, depression, yawning, irritability, neck pain or unusual food cravings. There are also several known triggers for those who suffer from migraines such as anxiety, alcohol, hormonal changes (for instance, from a change in contraception or menopause), and food. 
Another important difference between migraines and headaches is the treatment options. Most headaches respond to over-the-counter medication like aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, with migraines, prevention is often the best form of treatment. Eliminating alcohol and caffeine from your diet, prescription medications like antidepressants, blood pressure-lowering medicines, antiepileptic medications, or CGRP antagonists and trying to reduce stress levels may all help.
Once a migraine has taken hold, it can be much harder to get rid of. Normal painkillers can occasionally improve symptoms as well as anti-nausea medicines or tripans, but may not get rid of them entirely. However, there can be a danger of rebound headaches if these treatments are used more than 10 times in a month. If you suspect you may be having migraines rather than more normal tension-type headaches, you should consult your doctor for more help and advice.
If you’d like to have a chat about our current medical roles, then get in touch with one of our experienced recruitment consultants. Call 020 8505 6600 or email     
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