Tension Headache vs. Migraine: What Are the Differences

Is your head pounding right now? If so, there's a good chance that you have what is called a tension headache.

Tension headaches are easily the most common types of headaches in this country. Almost 80% of people will get one at some point.

But even with that being said, you might also have what is called a migraine. About 15% of people will be diagnosed with this type of headache.

It's good to know the differences between a tension headache and a migraine. It'll make it easier for you to diagnose a tension headache vs. a migraine.

We're going to break down the differences between tension headaches and migraines below. Our tension headache and migraine guide will allow you to figure out which type of headache you're dealing with at any given time.

What Is a Tension Headache?

If you ever feel like you have a rubber band stretched out around the outside of your head and causing you some pain, you probably have a tension headache. When you compare a tension headache vs. a migraine, a tension headache is typically the one that results in less pain.

That isn't to say that a tension headache isn't going to slow you down and make you wish that you could make your headache go away. You're still going to feel some pain, often on both sides of your head.

But more often than not, tension headaches will only stick around for a few hours at most. There are some tension headaches that will even go away within just a few minutes.

What Causes a Tension Headache?

There are a handful of things that can cause a tension headache to rear its ugly head. Some of the things that can lead to a tension headache include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness

When you're experiencing any of these things, the muscles in everything from your scalp to your jaw to your neck will tend to tighten up. And when this happens, it'll leave you with a tension headache that will linger until your muscles relax.

How Can You Get Rid of a Tension Headache?

When you get a tension headache, there are a number of things that you can do to try to make it go away. You can, for instance, take over-the-counter drugs that contain ingredients like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. They should help you to get rid of a tension headache.

You can also try getting some caffeine into your system. Many OTC drugs actually have caffeine in them because it's been shown to help with tension headaches.

Additionally, you can try to manipulate different pressure points for headaches. This might just do the trick and make a tension headache disappear.

What Is a Migraine?

While tension headaches aren't usually that bad in the grand scheme of things, migraines can be downright debilitating for a lot of people. It's easy to tell when you have a migraine coming on, and once it arrives, it's not going to go away for at least a few hours. Some people even get migraines for up to 72 hours at a time!

A migraine is going to force you to live with more severe symptoms than a tension headache. Some symptoms of a migraine are:

  • Throbbing pain that may feel more intense on one side of your head than the other
  • Pain that feels worse if you try to push through it and do anything at all
  • Sensitivity to lights, sounds, and sometimes even smells
  • Nausea that just won't seem to go away

Those who get migraines regularly often dread them. They know that they won't be able to do much once a migraine sets in, so they don't look forward to getting them in the slightest.

What Causes a Migraine?

It's pretty easy to figure out where a tension headache might have come from. But unfortunately, the cause of migraines is still unclear.

The thought is that a person's genes and their environment may both play key roles in migraines. There is also a belief that certain chemicals in the brain might get out of whack and cause migraines.

But one of the hardest parts about migraines is that people don't know when they're going to strike or where they'll be when they get them. It can result in them living in almost constant fear of getting a migraine headache.

How Can You Get Rid of a Migraine?

Getting rid of a tension headache is a whole lot easier than getting rid of a migraine. Oftentimes, people won't even have to do anything to get a tension headache to go away over time.

But those who get migraines will usually have to try different things to see what will help them to get rid of these types of headaches. They can test out everything from OTC drugs to special devices like transcranial magnetic stimulators that have been designed to help those with migraines.

They can also try to manipulate certain pressure points in their bodies to make migraines go away just like those with tension headaches. This doesn't work for everyone who gets migraines. But it would be worth a try if you've found that other migraine treatments don't work for you.

Be Sure to Know the Differences Between a Tension Headache vs. a Migraine

The next time your head hurts, you should attempt to figure out whether you have a tension headache vs. a migraine. You should be able to find out which type of headache you have by assessing your symptoms.

From there, you can then seek the right treatment options to (hopefully!) make your headache go away. You can also take the right steps to reduce your chances of getting more headaches in the future.

Get more tips that will help you take better care of your body by browsing through some of the other health-related articles that we've posted on our blog.