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Knowing The Difference Between
a Migraine and a Headache

By Dr. Brian McGeeney

Understanding the difference between just a bad headache and a migraine can be the difference between suffering with debilitating pain and missing life moments and living a normal life. If you suffer from frequent bad headaches, you could actually be suffering from migraines. An estimated 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines, and yet surprisingly, nearly half have never been diagnosed.

Although headache pain is one of the most common symptoms of migraine, which can last from four to 72 hours in adults if left untreated, other associated symptoms include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be difficult to diagnose as a result of various, often unrecognized, non-traditional symptoms, such as pain in the back of the neck and nasal congestion, which are fairly common but are frequently misdiagnosed as other conditions.

Because frequent bad headaches could actually be migraines, itís important to recognize migraine symptoms and speak with a doctor to determine a diagnosis and treatment that will work best for you. If left untreated, migraines can be disruptive and even disabling.

At least two of these symptoms:

Pain on one side of the head
Moderate to severe pain
Throbbing pain
Worse pain when moving or bending

Plus at least one of these associated symptoms:

Nausea and/or vomiting
Sensitivity to light and sound

 ďItís important that people who experience bad headaches seek medical attention to determine if they might have migraines. They should describe their symptoms to their physician in as much detail as possible so that they can get an accurate diagnosis. If a diagnosis of migraine is made, the good news is that there are migraine-specific medications that can help. People donít need to suffer needlessly,Ē said Dr. Brian McGeeney, headache specialist at Boston University School of Medicine.

One tool that can help you talk to your doctor about headache symptoms is the Headache Quiz. If you think your symptoms could be migraines, taking this Headache Quiz could be your first step in receiving an accurate diagnosis. Visit, answer the questions and share the results with your doctor.

Dr. Brian McGeeney, is a headache specialist at Boston University School of Medicine. Editorial assistance for this article was provided by GlaxoSmithKline. The Headache Assessment Quiz and are properties of GlaxoSmithKline.



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