It can be difficult to tell if the pressure and pain in your head is stemming from a headache or a migraine, but the important distinction can help you get faster relief or know when to seek medical attention.

Dr. James Fesenmeier, neurologist at Indiana University Health, offers the following advice to help you spot the difference between a normal headache and a migraine.

What is a headache?

A headache is an unpleasant feeling of pressure, dull aching, throbbing or sharp pain in your head. The pain can range from mild to severe and can either slowly develop or come on at once. It may occur on both sides of the head or in one location. Some headaches last for several days and others last just an hour or less.

What is a migraine?

Different from a headache, a migraine can cause intense throbbing and severe pain, most of the time just on one side of the head. Migraines are normally accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, visual disturbances, lightheadedness, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to sound or light. The pain can be prolonged over hours or days making it difficult to perform daily tasks.


Most headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain remedies, such as ibuprofen. Prevention is essential when it comes to migraines. Reducing stress, getting good sleep, taking certain medicines, and adding and/or eliminating foods and substances in your diet are all examples of preventative measures. Take note of how you feel and what symptoms you have before a migraine occurs to help identify what preventative measures you can implement. To be safe, consult your doctor for neurological or trauma treatment before making any changes to your normal routine.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month: Know the Signs and Symptoms

Dr. James Fesenmeier

A sudden severe headache with no obvious cause can be a manifestation of a type of stroke associated with bleeding in the brain. These can be called “thunderclap headaches,” and if you’ve never experienced this kind of headache previously, you should be evaluated urgently to rule out bleeding.

However, the more common type of stroke, known as ischemic strokes, is not usually associated with headache. Ischemic strokes are caused by lack of blood flow to part of the brain. Unfortunately because of the lack of pain, patients often delay coming to the hospital, which can prevent them from being able to receive the most effective treatments for stroke.

The acronym F.A.S.T can help identify a stroke – Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1. If you think you’re having a stroke, call 9-1-1 and go to an emergency room right away. Do not try to drive yourself or a loved one to the hospital.

Health Spotlight is sponsored by Indiana University Health

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