Broadly speaking, migraines tend to be the most severe common type of headache, and they often cause a disruption in daily life. This is generally a chronic condition that recurs relatively regularly, and little is known about the cause. During a migraine attack, light may be painful or intolerable, and sound may aggravate the pain. Most importantly, migraines and other types of headaches have very different responses to pain management and treatment, so it is important to be able to differentiate between the two in order to be able to respond appropriately.
Migraine characteristics. Migraines are generally of a longer duration than tension-type headaches, often only affect one side of the head and occur most often in women. Pain is usually felt behind the eyes or on the back of the head or neck. Sensitivity to light, noise and even some smells is common, as is abdominal cramping and stomach upset. You may also experience chills, frequent urination, areas of numbness or weakness, and pronounced fatigue. Your migraines may include some or all of these symptoms or may include symptoms that are not listed.
Differentiating factors with non-migraine headaches. Probably the most notable differentiating factors between a non-migraine headache and a migraine are auras and photosensitivity. The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes an aura as “a group of symptoms, including vision disturbances, that are a warning sign that a bad headache is coming.” Non-migraine headaches generally occur on both sides of the head, whereas migraines often only affect one, and non-migraine headaches are not likely to be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or other such symptoms. Migraines also tend to react differently than other headaches — they are more likely to be affected by noise levels and may be improved by caffeine, whereas this sometimes worsens other types of headaches. When in doubt, especially if the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily life, consult your doctor.