What’s the difference between migraines and headaches, and how can you treat them?

Woman lying down with migraine headache

Most people experience headaches sporadically through their lives and are not too adversely affected by them.  However, there is a severe type of headache called a migraine that can keep returning and be incredibly debilitating. It is estimated by the NHS that around one in every five women, and around one in every 15 men are affected by migraines, which usually begin in early adulthood.[1]

The exact cause of migraines is still partly unknown; the current understanding is that there is a temporary change in the chemicals and blood vessels of the brain.[2] A migraine is typically experienced as a severe headache, often with a throbbing pain in the front or sides of the head. Some people have other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound or smells. Migraines can last from a few hours to a few days.

There are different types of migraine. There are migraines with aura, which is where there are warning signs of the migraine in the form of visual disturbance i.e. seeing spots, lights or blurred lines. There are also migraines that occur without warning. It is even possible to have a migraine aura without the accompanying headache.

There are also many different possible triggers for migraines. These can include stress and anxiety (and how you respond to it), food and drink triggers, sleep patterns, hormones and tension – especially in the neck and shoulders.

In order to manage migraines and/or reoccurring headaches in a regular sufferer, the identification of a specific triggers is essential. Behavioural and lifestyle changes play a vital part in the treatment of both, such as avoiding certain foods (chocolate and cheese seem to be a big no-no for some people – sorry!), the maintenance of a regular sleep pattern or mindfulness to ease stress. Chiropractic treatment also has the ability to alleviate some contributory factors, including relieving restriction in movement of the neck, muscle tension in the neck, upper back and shoulders and helping correct any postural issues that may influence the occurrence of both migraine and tension headaches.

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Causes.aspx

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