Tension Headache Vs. Migraine

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Table of Contents


Migraine is defined as the most common cause of headaches, but it is not. People tend to define all headaches as migraines, though there are around 300 causes of headaches.

Tension headache has a 30-70% prevalence and is often described as a migraine by people. The symptoms of migraine can include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Although it is not known exactly how many people suffer from migraines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 12% of adults are suffering from migraine worldwide.

Symptoms of Tension Headache

  • Tension headaches typically begin slowly in the head and neck before becoming more intense over time.
  • muscle tension in the neck or shoulders

Tension headaches are often preceded by a warning feeling in your neck or shoulders that might feel like an ache or tingle.

Symptoms of Migraine

Migraine headaches occur when you have severe pain in one or both temples, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. There is a list of triggering factors for migraine.

It appears in four stages; prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.

  • Migraine headaches are characterized by throbbing pain on one side of your head.
  • Accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Visual disturbances or aura
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

What Causes Tension Headache?

There are no exact causes for tension headaches, but it is believed the following causes might trigger a tension-type headache.

  • Fatigue, strenuous activities, eye strain, poor posture, or neck tension
  • Stress, depression, anxiety,
  • Alcohol use and changes to caffeine intake (either too much or too little)
  • Facial or head trauma
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching

Females are at a higher risk of getting tension headaches than males, probably due to hormonal changes.

Migraine Causes

  • Genetics
  • Female gender
  • Food triggers (MSG, red wine, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners)
  • Caffeine overdose
  • Tobacco or alcohol use.
  • Changes in barometric pressure
  • Hypersensitivity to bright lights or loud noises.
  • Post menstrual syndrome (PMS) or hormone changes
  • Mental stress or anxiety
  • Sleep issues

Types of Migraine

Migraine headaches are one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting nearly 10% of the globe every year. The main types of migraines are as below.

Acute Migraine

This type of migraine is characterized by a severe headache that has fewer than 14 attacks per month accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and fatigue.

Chronic Migraine

This type of migraine occurs when 15 or more migraine episodes are experienced per month. The person may experience visual disturbances such as flashing lights or zigzag lines, as well as other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Hemiplegic Migraine

This type of headache is accompanied by one-sided weakness of the body, and it is difficult to diagnose as a stroke. As a result, you must seek professional assistance to diagnose.

Ocular Migraine

This is a rare type of migraine characterized by a sudden loss of vision and vision changes in the eye. It is necessary to identify the cause of vision loss.

Treatment of Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are different; they’re usually caused by muscle tension in your neck or scalp.

Tension headaches and migraine headaches are both types of headaches that happen when you have an excess of pressure in your head.

But they’re not the same!

Over-the-Counter Pain Killers

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • NSAIDs: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve),
  • Excedrin-caffeine + acetaminophen + aspirin)

Additional Prescribed Medications to Relieve Tension Headaches!

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Muscle relaxers
  • These can be used as secondary drugs to relieve tension headaches.

Self-Care for Tension Headache

Proper home remedies can reduce painful headaches.

  • Rest and stress management
  • Apply heat compression to relieve neck pain.
  • Ice pack compression for a headache
  • Acupuncture and aromatherapy
  • Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises
  • Submit hot shower to relax muscles.
  • Maintaining a proper posture

 Physical Therapy for Tension Headache

These physical therapies will allow the release of pleasure hormones, which help to relieve stress.

  • Body and neck massage
  • Acupressure and acupuncture
  • Chiropractic adjustments

Treatment of  Migraine

  • Migraine headaches, or migraines, are a major headache disorder. They’re known to be one of the top reasons that people seek medical attention.
  • But it’s not just the pain. Migraines can also cause nausea, vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and sensitivity to sound and smell.
  • And since migraines are usually accompanied by other symptoms like diarrhea, sensitivity to heat and cold, dizziness/fainting, extreme fatigue/weakness/lack of energy, it’s no wonder that people with migraines often feel suffering.
  • There are many different types of medications that are used to treat migraines; these include pain killers, relievers, and preventers.
Pain killers Relievers Preventers
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)

Naproxen (Aleve)

Excedrin (Caffeine+Tylenol PM+Aspirin)


Anti-nausea drugs

Muscle relaxers



CGRP antagonists

Antidepressants and Beta-blockers

Calcium channel blockers, Botox injections

The most important one is called triptans. These medications work by blocking certain chemicals in your brain (called serotonin) that may cause certain kinds of headaches, like migraine headaches (“migraine”).

You might need drugs from each group to relieve migraine pain.

Changes in Lifestyle

Drugs alone cannot control migraines; lifestyle changes also play a part in migraine management. such as

  • Resting
  • Meditation
  • Reliving stress
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Good hydration
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Cold compression of the head

Migraine Treatments

There are multiple therapies that can be used to relieve migraines and reduce their frequency.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acupressure
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Moderate exercises
  • Biofeedback therapy
  • Meditation and breathing techniques

Migraine Vs. Tension Headache

Migraine is a condition caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that causes migraines. Migraines and tension headaches are two of the most common types of headaches. They can be incredibly painful, but they’re also very different.

In general, tension headaches and migraines can be differentiated by their symptoms. Tension headaches are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, often lasting for hours or days at a time.

Migraines tend to be extremely painful and cause nausea as well as vomiting. Both conditions also cause light sensitivity and other visual disturbances that may last for several hours or even days after the headache begins.

However, there are also some very specific differences between these two types of headaches: Tension headaches tend to occur more frequently than migraines, especially in women over 50 years of age.

  • Migraine has a prodrome stage where pre-migraine symptoms or warning signs of headache are seen, which is not seen in tension headaches.
  • Migraine has specific triggers that provoke it, but tension headache does not have specific triggers.

A tension headache feels like a tightening band around the head and neck, while a migraine is a throbbing, pulsating headache.

When to Channel A Doctor

Tension headache is a milder form of headache that can be managed with over-the-counter medications.

While many people find relief through over-the-counter medication or lifestyle changes, some may need more help than others.

Thus, channeling a doctor will help you in the following situations:

If you have a headache that lasts longer than four hours or if the pain is severe, you should see a doctor right away.

  • The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get on with your day and feel better. Daily preventive treatment is a great way to prevent migraines from occurring every month.
  • If you are having a fever, neck stiffness, and difficulty seeing light, this might indicate meningitis.
  • If you are having one-sided muscle weakness and slurring of speech, this might indicate a stroke or a transient ischemic attack(TIA).
  • Confusion or altered level of consciousness, seizure activity may indicate brain inflammation.

TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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