NaturalNews) Everyone gets a headache every now and then. Not only are they painful and sometimes debilitating, but they can cause you to miss work, as well as other important events. Though bothersome, headaches are relatively normal, depending on the severity and frequency, of course. But migraines aren’t normal; in fact, they are considered a medical condition.
Learning to identify the difference between a headache and a migraine is important, as the latter could be tied to underlying health problems, such as inflammation in the brain. The following excerpt from the book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Migraines by Alexander Mauskop and Barry Fox, can help you tell the difference between the two.
“I can’t stand it anymore! That damned aura, the dizziness, the nausea, the two-by-four slamming inside my head for days at a time! It’s the most excruciating pain you can imagine. To say it’s like an ice pick jabbing into my brain, or an atom bomb going off in my skull, just doesn’t do it justice.”
This is how some of my thousands of patients have described their migraine pain to me. Migraineurs suffer from horrible pain that can go on and on. These headaches can become so terrible that some victims actually wish they would die, while others fear they won’t.
Migraines are most common among adolescents and young adults
Over 25 million Americans suffer from migraines. Twenty-five million people crippled by nausea, intolerance of light and sound, sweating, double vision, bright spots before their eyes, numbness and tingling in the face and hands, confused thinking, slurred speech, weakness of the limbs, diarrhea, chills, sometimes auras, and always pain, that horrible pain that never seems to end.
Some people consider themselves lucky if the terrible pain vanishes in a mere four hours, for others, migraines often last ten hours or more. And some throb on for three or four days!
Women are more likely than men to suffer from this terrible type of headache. Indeed, 70 percent of migraine patients are female. Thirty percent of migraineurs suffer their first attack before the age of ten, and the problem is most common among adolescents and young adults.
But it can strike at any age, even in infancy. The dollar cost of migraine headaches is tremendous: Over $20 billion a year is spent by sufferers desperate for relief. And the personal cost? It’s too high to calculate.
Migraine headaches are an ancient problem, dating back thousands of years. Julius Caesar, England’s Queen Mary, Thomas Jefferson, and many others whom we’ve read about in history books were plagued by this mysterious and diabolic head pain.
Migraine, tension-type, cluster and organic
You would think that defining a headache would be simple: If my head hurts, and it’s not because I just bumped it against the wall, it’s a headache. If it hurts because I had a lousy day at work, it’s a tension headache. If I have light sensitivity, it must be a migraine.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, with doctors identifying numerous types of headaches. And head pain might switch from one type of headache to another, or may meet the criteria for two types of headaches at once!
We generally speak about the four most common types of headaches: migraine, tension-type, cluster, and organic.
(We used to divide headaches into vascular and muscle-contraction types. Migraines and cluster headaches were all considered to be vascular headaches. The latest scientific evidence suggests, however, that both vascular and muscle-contraction headaches may be triggered by problems with neurotransmitters in the brain.)
With migraine headaches, problems with neurotransmitters may be the underlying cause. With tension-type headaches, the culprit is thought to be muscle tension, although migraine is also accompanied by tension in scalp muscles.
That headache you get after a long, difficult day’s work or during an argument with your spouse is most likely a muscle-contraction (tension) headache. Most headaches are tension-type.
With cluster headaches, the problem may lie in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate hormones and body rhythms. Or the headaches may be triggered by special receptor sites in the neck arteries that determine how much oxygen and carbon dioxide feed the brain via the blood.
With organic headaches, the head pain is a symptom of another ailment, such as inflammation around the brain, elevated blood pressure, a buildup of fluid in the brain, or even a brain tumor. Less than 1 percent of headaches are organic, but the underlying problems can be life-threatening, so if you have persistent or unusual headaches, see your physician immediately.
How to tell the difference between migraines and headaches
How can you tell which type of headache you have? Only a physician can give a definitive diagnosis, but here are some indications of a migraine. You don’t have to have all of these features; two or three is enough to make it a migraine.
- The pain grips one side of your head.
- The pain is moderate to severe.
- The pain is “throbbing” or “penetrating.”
- The pain lasts anywhere from a couple of hours to days.
- You may see flashing lights or have other visual disturbances before the headache appears.
- Lights and noise make you feel worse.
- You feel nauseated during your headache and may vomit.
- You feel dizzy.
- You sweat, even though it’s not hot.
- You feel chilled.
- You have double vision.
- You have difficulty keeping your thoughts straight.
- Your speech is slurred.
- You feel weak in the arms and legs.
- You have diarrhea.
- Part of your face, or perhaps your arm, tingles and/or goes numb.
The problem often begins during “down” times, such as weekends and vacations when you’re not
Just as there are signs suggesting migraines, there are indications that tend to rule them out. For example, if your headache usually strikes while you’re laughing hard, exercising, or enjoying sex, it’s quite likely an exertion headache.
If the pain typically zeroes in on the days you skip meals because you’re trying to lose weight, the problem may be due to low blood sugar.
If the headache produces dull pain, generally strikes during or after a long or difficult work period, and your shoulders and neck muscles are knotted and stiff, it’s probably a tension headache. And if the headaches grow steadily worse over time, they may be due to an organic problem.
Mauskop, A. and Fox, B. (2001) What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Migraines: The Breakthrough Program That Can Help End Your Pain (Grand Central Publishing)
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