How to know if Its Migraine or Tension Headache by Dr Gautam Arora Neurologist at NPMC

Tension headache is the most common headache. Up to 78% of Americans will get them at some point. You might have them every once in a while, and they may disappear within a few hours. Migraines aren’t as common. About 15% of adults in the U.S. get them. But they can be much more painfu. They usually last between 4 and 72 hours.


Signs and symptoms of a tension-type headache include:

  • Dull, aching head pain
  • Sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead
  • Tenderness in the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles

Tension-type headaches are divided into two main categories — episodic and chronic.

Episodic tension-type headaches can last from 30 minutes to a week. Frequent episodic tension-type headaches occur less than 15 days a month for at least three months. Frequent episodic tension-type headaches may become chronic.This type of tension-type headache lasts hours and may be continuous. If your headaches occur 15 or more days a month for at least three months, they’re considered chronic.

Symptoms associated with a Migraine:

  • nausea or Vomiting
  • pain behind one eye or ear
  • pain in the temples
  • seeing flashing lights
  • sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • temporary vision loss

Migraine headaches are typically divided into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An “aura” refers to sensations a person experiences before they get a migraine. These can include:

  • feeling less mentally alert or having trouble thinking
  • seeing flashing lights or unusual lines
  • feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands
  • having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch

Tension-type headaches versus migraines

Tension-type headaches can be difficult to distinguish from migraines. Plus, if you have frequent episodic tension-type headaches, you can also have migraines.Unlike some forms of migraine, tension-type headaches usually aren’t associated with visual disturbances, nausea or vomiting. Although physical activity typically aggravates migraine pain, it doesn’t make tension-type headache pain worse. An increased sensitivity to either light or sound can occur with a tension-type headache, but this symptom isn’t common. While both migraines and tension headaches cause pain in your head, the pain each causes is different and they may be accompanied by different symptoms.There can also be some overlap between the symptoms of a migraine and a tension headache; for example, while most people who get migraines experience one-sided head pain, there are people who get pain that is on both sides of their head which is more common in tension headaches.

About NPMC Neurology and Pain Management Clinic

NPMC Neurology and Pain Management Clinic

E164/1 Kamla Nagar Delhi