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Migraines vs. Tension Headaches: How To Tell Them Apart?

A lot of people experience headaches either occasionally or on a regular basis. Headaches are extremely common, and they can come in a variety of types. Whether you just started getting headaches recently or have had them for years, it is necessary to determine what type of headache you are dealing with, so that you can receive the right treatment.

Of all the several types of headaches, tension headaches are the most common. As a matter of fact, in Singapore, almost 40% of those who experience headaches are cases of episodic tension type headaches. Compared to tension headaches, migraines are not as common, but they can be much more draining and painful. To understand more about these types of headaches, here are some key differences between tension headaches and migraines.

What is a tension headache?

As mentioned earlier, tension headaches are the most common kind of headache. They usually cause mild to moderate pain around one’s neck, face, and head. Tension headaches actually come in two major forms: episodic tension headaches and chronic tension headaches. The former takes place less often, typically fewer than 15 days in a month. On the other hand, the latter usually occurs 15 days or more in a month for over 3 months in a row.

To determine if you have a tension headache, you should consider the following common symptoms:

· Pain on both sides of your head.

· The pain is not severe.

· There is a tight pressure instead of a throbbing pain in your head. This might feel like there is pressure all the way around your head or it is in a vice.

· There might also be tightness in your shoulder muscles and neck and soreness in your temples.

What causes tension headaches?

At present, researchers have not yet identified a single cause for tension headaches. What they know as of now is that this kind of headache does not run in families or is not hereditary. For some specialists, tension headaches may be triggered by the tightened muscles in the back of your neck or head. The other common triggers for tension headaches are the following:

· Pain in your neck or other parts of your head as a result of issues like temporomandibular disorders.

· Eye strain caused by staring at a computer screen for too long.

· Sleeping problems like insomnia.

· Stress in connection with family, work, and life problems.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a less common type of headache than tension headaches, but its symptoms are often more severe. Indeed, a migraine is way more than just a bad headache. It can cause you to experience debilitating throbbing pain that can even leave you bedridden for days. This is because your migraine is likely to become worse with physical activity, sounds, smells, and lights. It can last for at least 4 hours or even days and weeks.

Like tension headaches, there are also different kinds of migraines, such as chronic migraine, retinal migraine, hemiplegic migraine, acephalgic migraine, complicated migraine, common migraine, and migraine with brainstem aura. The most common symptom of migraine is a headache that is often described as throbbing or pounding. The pain can transfer from one side of your head to the other, or it can affect the front, back, or whole of your head at once.

Here are the other common symptoms of migraines:

· Nausea and vomiting

· Sensitivity to noise, odours, and light

· Abdominal pain or upset stomach

· Loss of appetite

· Feeling either very cold or very warm

· Feeling exhausted

· Dizziness and blurred vision

· Pale skin colour

· Tender scalp

What causes migraines?

The cause of migraines is usually considered complicated and not completely understood. When you experience a headache, it is due to the fact that specific nerves in your blood vessels send your brain some pain signals. These signals result in the release of inflammatory substances into your head’s nerves and blood vessels. However, as of now, it is still unclear to researchers why your nerves do that. With that said, there is a variety of factors that can commonly trigger migraines, such as the following:

· Light, specifically fluorescent lights, sunlight, flashing lights, and light from your computer screen

· Daily use of pain relief medications

· Hormonal changes in women, especially around the time of their menstrual periods

· Sensitivity to particular chemicals and preservatives in foods

· Delaying a meal

· Caffeine intake

· Emotional stress

· Changing weather conditions

· Being overly exhausted

· Changes in your normal sleeping pattern

· Loud noises

· Dieting or not drinking adequate water

· Exposure to smoke or other odours

· Certain medications that result in the swelling of blood vessels


Overall, tension headaches and migraines tend to cause different symptoms and are triggered by different factors. While tension headaches are much more common, they cause less severe pain in comparison to migraines which often bring about pounding or throbbing pains. Since they have varying symptoms and triggers, it is important to know how to tell tension headaches and migraines apart, so that you can determine which treatment option is best for you.

If you have been experiencing these headache warning signs for a long time, and they are already starting to disrupt your everyday routine, it is advisable to consult a Singapore headache specialist now. For the most skilled and reliable specialists for headaches and other pains in the country, Affinity Pain Clinic is the one you can trust!

We are a reputable pain treatment specialist that offers an array of effective pain management treatments, such as headache and migraine treatment, sports injury treatment, nerve pain treatment, joint pain treatment, and muscle tear treatment in Singapore. With our extensive and thorough assessment of your condition, physical examination, and breakthrough imaging, we guarantee to identify the root cause of your headaches and to provide you with specialised treatment options, so you can finally bid farewell to your persistent headaches.

For more information about our excellent treatments, feel free to get in touch with us by simply filling out the contact form here.


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