Headache v migraine

Posted 7 October 2022

Headache is a very common symptom of a migraine attack – but migraine is so much more than headache

Is it migraine or headache?

Most people with migraine find headaches are a common feature of their migraine attacks. But headaches and migraine attacks are not the same thing – migraine is much more than just a headache.

Migraine attacks involve an array of symptoms alongside the headache. The head pain can be so severe that you may have to stop what you’re doing, but sometimes it’s the other symptoms, such as visual disturbance, dizziness, nausea or abdominal pains, which are disabling.

So, what is migraine?

Migraine is a disorder of the brain where the nerves become over-stimulated and cause a cascade of chemicals to be released.

It’s not caused by a structural problem in the brain – using a computer as an analogy, this is a software rather than a hardware issue!

Migraine comes with an array of symptoms that can vary from one person to the next. Most adults with migraine will experience headache, with pain that is usually throbbing in nature, which can also be accompanied by nausea or vomiting along with increased sensitivity to light, noise, movement, or smell.

If you have headache attacks lasting hours or even days, with queasiness or a preference for rest (even if you could carry on), you are very likely to have migraine – but you will need to be seen by a medical professional for a diagnosis.

Migraine can be categorised as episodic (infrequent attacks) or chronic (more than 15 headache days each month).

While there is no simple cure for migraine, there are strategies and treatments that will help manage and control migraine and can often greatly reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks.

What does migraine feel like?

Migraine symptoms vary greatly, as you’ll discover from our range of factsheets. Some people, especially (but not only) children and young people, may find abdominal symptoms particularly troublesome. Others will have dizziness and visual or other sensory disturbances. And most, but not all, will experience headache.

For the majority who are affected by headache, migraine involves an intense, throbbing pain, which may be present on one side or both sides of the head. You’ll often experience sensitivity to light and sound too and may feel nauseous.

Who gets migraine?

Migraine is common. It affects around one in five women and one in 12 men.

It usually begins in early life, though diagnosis may be delayed until it becomes a problem, which is often when people begin working or during middle age.

Migraine usually gets less troublesome in older people, though it can begin at any age.


Find out all about migraine, including the different types, stages of migraine, causes, triggers and treatments on our What is Migraine? page.

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