What Kind of Headache Do You Have?

If you’re not sure whether what you have is a migraine or a headache, then this handy checklist should help. Although, everyone’s headaches and migraines are a bit different, hopefully these general guidelines will be a means of differentiating a tension headache from a migraine.


Tension headaches


If your pain is in the form of a tight band around the front or the back of your head, and isn’t pain which is severe enough to stop you from performing everyday tasks, then this is likely to be a tension headache.


The exact cause of a tension headache will vary on a case by case basis, but common causes include poor posture, missing meals, dehydration, and stress.

Cluster headaches


The pain is throbbing and on one side of the head, usually centres over one eye, the temple, or the forehead. The pain reaches its full intensity within 5 to 10 minutes and lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. This head pain may occur every other day during a cluster attack, or up to eight times in one day.


Alcohol is one common trigger of cluster headaches, as are strong smells (e.g. petrol or paint fumes), and becoming overheated.

N.B. These are incredibly painful, but thankfully rare, and they only affect between 1 and 2 people in every 1000.

Migraines without aura


The pain is usually on one side of the head, and is a throbbing or pulsating type of pain which affects your daily activities. You will probably also feel nauseous, and may be sick or have diarrhoea. Many find they are sensitive to light and/or sound as well. An attack can last between 4 and 72 hours.


No one is sure exactly what causes migraines without aura, but common triggers include lack of sleep, dehydration, missing meals, changes in the weather, aged meats and cheeses, chocolate, and stress.

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