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Comparing Headache Disorders: Post-Concussive Headaches vs. Migraines vs. Tension-Type Headaches

Headache Specialist NYC

Do you experience frequent headaches and want to seek help? Get in touch with Neurodiagnostics Medical P.C. today!

Knowing the difference between headaches vs. migraines can help you find the right doctor and describe your symptoms more accurately. As your top-rated neurologist in New York, the team at Neurodiagnostics Medical P.C. can help you determine the cause of your headaches and migraines and develop a suitable treatment plan. 

To come to us feeling prepared, keep reading about the differences between the types of headaches, the probable causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatment.

What Are Post-Concussive Headaches?

A post-concussive headache is one that occurs after you experience a concussion. Technically, this is an injury where your brain becomes bruised, like it does after an abrupt stop, such as during a car crash injury. Concussions are very common, and MSN estimates that over three million people experience one every year. 

According to the American Headache Society, 95% of people who experience a concussion develop a headache afterward. However, risk factors that make you more vulnerable to a concussion include:

  • Previous concussions
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Participating in contact sports (like football)
  • Mobility or balance problems that increase your chance of falling
  • Poor vision

Symptoms of Post-Concussive Headaches

If you have a concussion, you likely have a post-concussive headache. However, sometimes, even after hitting your head, you might not feel certain that your headache relates to an actual concussion. The most common post-concussive symptoms may include the following:

  • Headache
  • Upset stomach, dizziness, and nausea
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Problems remembering simple pieces of information
  • Issues walking normally
  • Blurred or unfocused vision
  • Excessive fatigue or trouble staying awake
  • Unusual changes in mood
  • Changes in normal sleep patterns

Treating Post-Concussive Headaches

If you have signs of a concussion, your healthcare provider will likely want to monitor you. After you’re home, you’ll want someone to monitor you for up to 48 hours. The treatment for mild to severe concussions primarily relies on rest and pain medication, so avoid activities that require concentration or could reinjure your head, like biking or skiing. 

You’ll usually recover from a concussion in a few days, but it can also take weeks or months. 

What Are Migraines?

chronic migraine in NYC

When discerning the difference between headaches vs. migraines, you’ll consider both the severity and the cause. The biggest difference between migraines and headaches is that migraines often arise because of life-long neurological disorders. They usually occur on one side of the head, though they might develop into affecting both sides.

One study reported roughly 15% of people experiencing migraines in the three months prior. Migraines often have a genetic factor, and environmental factors can trigger them, including high stress levels, flashing lights, lack of sleep, skipping meals, birth control, or alcohol.

Other risk factors for migraines include the following:

  • Old age
  • A family history of migraines
  • Hormonal changes

Being female increases your chances by three times.

Symptoms of Migraines vs. Headaches

You can help determine whether you have a migraine by comparing it with the symptoms of headaches. In general, a migraine has the following symptoms that a headache does not:

  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Head pain behind one side of the head 
  • Pain behind both eyes
  • Sensitivity to light or sound or an aura around lights
  • Muscle aches

Many people categorize migraine pain as more severe than headaches.

Treating Migraines

One of the best ways to improve a migraine is to sleep it off. You can also reduce your chances of developing a migraine by improving your sleep routine. 

Your doctor may prescribe medications to relieve the symptoms of your migraine, including anti-nausea pills, pain relievers, and NSAIDs. However, if you find yourself taking medication for migraines more than 10 days a month, you might actually increase the pain’s severity. Talk to your doctor about other solutions.

What Are Tension Headaches?

What Are Tension Headaches

Though tension-type headaches are the most common type, healthcare experts still don’t fully understand what causes them. Tension headaches usually feel like you have a rubber band squeezing your head, and though you’ll feel like the pain is constant, you’ll likely experience mild to moderate pain rather than a migraine’s more severe pain.

While doctors can’t fully explain the causes of tension headaches, many agree that restricted blood vessels are a major factor. Other potential causes of tension headaches include neck strain (such as poor posture), TMJ disorder, anxiety and depression, and sleep disorders.

Risk factors for tension headaches include the following:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not stretching after exercising
  • Being a woman

Tension headaches remain extremely common, and My Cleveland Clinic estimates about 70% of people experience them occasionally.

Symptoms of Tension Headaches

What are the most common symptoms of tension-type headaches? You can distinguish headaches vs. migraines by the following general symptoms:

  • A slow onset
  • Generalized pain around your head (not localized)
  • Dull throbbing pain rather than a severe stabbing sensation
  • Pain in the back part of the head or neck
  • Pain that remains mild or moderate

Symptoms often last only 30 minutes, but in rare cases, you can have a tension headache for up to a week. If you don’t find relief within a week, schedule an appointment with your doctor or visit the emergency room.

Treating Tension Headaches

Treating tension-type headaches usually only requires a combination of relaxation techniques and minor pain management. Relaxation techniques include: 

  • Improving your sleep habits
  • Light exercise like yoga
  • Eating regular meals
  • Resting in a dark and quiet room 

Common medications to manage the pain from headaches include Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Aleve. If these treatments don’t effectively treat your headaches or reduce their frequency, consult your doctor to determine whether you have a more serious condition.

Diagnosing Your Headache

How do your doctors diagnose a headache or a migraine? Several diagnostic methods can pinpoint the cause and nature of your headache.

Discussing Medical History

Your doctor will ask you a series of the questions below to determine what kind of headaches you’re suffering from for a clear diagnosis:

  • When do you develop headaches? If they frequently happen during the same time of day, there might be a trigger.
  • Where does your head usually hurt? The location of the headache is a clear indicator of what type of headache you have.
  • How do the headaches feel? By rating the pain and asking you to describe the sensation, they can narrow down the cause.
  • What is the average amount of time the headaches last? Migraines usually last longer than tension headaches.
  • Are you acting or feeling differently than normal? A change in personality could signify a more serious neurological issue.
  • Does changing position make the headache worse? If sitting up increases your pain, you might have a tension headache.
  • Do you have sleep problems? Sleep disorders are most commonly associated with migraines.
  • How stressful is your life? Helping you reduce stress often provides significant relief from your headaches.
  • Have you injured your head recently? Revealing a head injury may prompt the doctor to test for post-concussion syndrome.

Imaging Tests

Your doctor can use a variety of imaging tests to help determine the cause of your headaches or migraines. The most common tests include the following:

  • X-ray: Scanning your sinuses can help the doctor determine whether sinus pressure is causing your head pain.
  • MRI: This test uses magnets to render detailed images of your brain. It can identify any damage.
  • CT scan: This uses a combination of X-rays and computer rendering to show more detail than your average X-ray.

Find a Neurologist in NYC To Treat Your Migraines and Headaches

Now that you know the basic differences between headaches vs. migraines, you can determine what kind of help you should seek. Whether it’s neurologist treatment for post-concussion syndrome or peace of mind that your headaches aren’t something more serious, the qualified doctors at Neurodiagnostics Medical P.C. can help. Our knowledgeable and compassionate doctors can help you diagnose and treat your chronic headaches, migraines, and more.

Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including workers’ compensation, no-fault, and PIP (personal injury protection. Same-day appointments may be available. To see our neurologist in NYC, call Neurodiagnostics Medical P.C. (347) 602 – 9530 today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to the most common questions concerning migraines vs. headaches.

Do I Treat a Migraine and Headache Differently?

Yes, you treat migraines and headaches differently. They have different sources and severities. In general, you use more powerful medications to manage migraines.

Should I Go To the Hospital for a Headache?

You should go to a hospital for a headache in the following situations:

  • You’re over 50, and the headache developed in just a few seconds
  • You classify the headache as the worst one of your life
  • You’re nauseous or vomiting and don’t have the flu or a hangover
  • You have trouble speaking or moving

Can I Treat a Headache or Migraine at Home?

You can usually treat a headache or migraine at home. While the techniques might vary between headaches vs. migraines, you often just require rest and medication.

About The Author

Picture of Ashwin Malhotra, M.D.

Ashwin Malhotra, M.D.

Ashwin Malhotra, M.D. is a highly respected neurologist based in New York City. With over 20 years of experience in the field of neurology, he has earned a reputation as a leading expert in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Malhotra is also a dedicated educator and researcher. He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed medical journals and has presented his research at national and international conferences.