Is it a headache or a migraine?

Did you know that headaches affect nearly 90 per cent of men and 95 per cent of women? It comes as no surprise that most of us have experienced a dull or throbbing headache at some point in our lives.

But could yours be something more serious, like a migraine?

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Does your headache make you nauseous? Have you felt dizzy or had blurred vision? Or do you just need to lock yourself in a dark room to ease the pain behind your eyes?

We take a look at the differences between headaches and migraines and how you could keep track of their patterns, prevent them and find some relief.

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

A headache is categorised by pain in the head and upper neck area and is classed into three types: primary, secondary and cranial neuralgias.

Primary headaches are the most common and include migraines, tension and cluster headaches. Although they do not strike as often, migraines are relatively common among adults, with 15 per cent of Brits across the UK suffering from them.

Unlike headaches, migraines are far more serious and you could find yourself bed bound within an hour. Nausea and stomach cramps, blurred vision, loss of appetite and dizziness are all symptoms of migraines.

These are the three most commonly reported migraines to doctors:

1. A migraine with an aura

An aura is a warning sign before the migraine begins – usually blurry vision or flashing lights. About a third of people will experience an aura and it should give you enough time to find treatment or a quiet place to rest while it passes.

2. Migraine without an aura

This migraine gives no warning, it can strike at any time and often leaves the you unable to carry on with normal day-to-day tasks.

3. Migraines without a headache

These are also known as ‘silent migraines’. You might experience an aura but the headache itself will never develop.

What is causing my migraine?

Migraines and headaches are thought to be caused by changes in hormone levels in your brain – most importantly serotonin.

When levels of serotonin drop, blood vessels in your brain can spasm and this may cause an aura. Soon after the spasm, the blood vessels dilate again and this causes the actual pain.

Experts believe that emotional (including stress, shock and depression), physical (exhaustion, poor posture and low blood sugar) and dietary (dehydration, caffeine and specific food groups such as dairy or sugar) triggers are also to blame for migraines.

Can I treat a migraine?

Although doctors have not found a cure for migraines, there are some treatments available that can help ease the symptoms. Painkillers are generally prescribed to reduce pain, but recently drug-free alternative treatments have become popular.

Some people have found relief with  acupuncture  and have used it as a preventative treatment for migraines too. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) states that a course of up to 10 sessions over a two month period can help.

Also oxygen sales for the treatment of headaches and migraines has risen in recent years. Sufferers have reported that breathing in purified oxygen-enriched air from a canister has helped eased their tension headaches and subdued migraine pains.

Most doctor will recommend you keep a diary. Start taking notes of everything you ate as certrain food groups might be triggering your migraines. Monitor your stress levels or changes in your environment as well as these could be to blame too. After identifying a possible trigger, avoiding it could be the key to preventing your migraine attacks.