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Is Your Headache a Migraine?

We’ve all experienced a headache at some point or another, but have you ever wondered if that headache you’re having may actually be a migraine? Approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population gets migraine headaches, and although they can be similar, there are some distinguishing traits to a migraine headache.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tension Headache?

A tension headache is the most common type of headache. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in teens and adults. Symptoms of a tension headache could be any combination of the following:

  • Pain or discomfort in the head, scalp or neck
  • Pain often feels like a band squeezing your head
  • A dull, squeezing pain on both sides of your head
  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Occasional severe pain

What Are the Causes of a Tension Headache?

Tension headaches are most often associated with muscle tightness in the head, scalp or neck. A number of factors can trigger a tension headache, but the most common causes are:

  • Fatigue or overexertion
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Sleeping in an abnormal position
  • Problems with muscles or joints in the neck or jaw
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Dental problems such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • Eye strain

What Are Some Treatments for a Tension Headache?

There are a number of options you can choose to treat a tension headache. Common treatments include:

  • Taking a hot or cold shower or bath
  • Gently massaging your head and neck muscles
  • Taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen

What Are the Symptoms of a Migraine Headache?

A migraine headache is often described as a headache with throbbing or intense pulsing pain. Other distinguishing symptoms include:

  • Pain that is concentrated on one side of the head
  • A severe sensitivity to light and sound
  • Possible nausea
  • Possible vomiting

Some people experience pre-migraine symptoms that warn them they are about to have a migraine. These warning symptoms include:

  • Seeing flashing lights
  • Seeing zigzag lines
  • Temporary loss of vision

What Are the Causes of a Migraine Headache?

There are many factors that can trigger a migraine headache. However, some of the more common causes include:

  • Anxiety
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Lack of food or sleep
  • Exposure to light

What Are Some Treatments for a Migraine Headache?

If you’re able to spot a migraine in its very early stages, it’s possible to control it with nonprescription pain relievers, including:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

A combination of one of these pain medications and caffeine can be effective if taken early in the attack. If necessary, your doctor may recommend a prescription drug to treat your migraines. Most doctors turn to triptans, which are available as tablets, nasal sprays or as injections that you can administer to yourself. Some common triptans include:

  • Sumatriptan
  • Zolmitriptan
  • Rizatriptan

Alternate treatments to consider include:

  • Mindfulness and meditation – research has shown that those who incorporate mindfulness and meditation into their daily routines have fewer migraines per month
  • Magnesium – studies suggest that magnesium supplementation can be helpful for migraines
  • Acupuncture – studies have proven that acupuncture can be effective in fighting chronic pain like headaches

If you experience migraine headaches often, work with your doctor to establish a treatment plan that works best for you. Keep in mind that every person responds to treatments differently.

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