Difference Between Migraine and Tension Headache

Headaches seem to be common with all the tensions running in our life. Most of us have likely suffered from headaches at some point in our life. In some people, it may vanish within a few hours. Or it may last some days. The recognition of a type of headache is important to identify which type of treatment to seek. The pain of Migraine and tension-type headaches range from mild to severe. 

Migraine vs Tension Headache

The main difference between Migraine and tension headache lies in their severity. Migraine headaches are unusual. They sometimes last for a couple of days as opposed to tension headaches which may vanish in a couple of hours. It makes the person weak and exhausted. The symptoms, location of headache, severity, treatments, causes, and symptoms largely differ. 

Migraine vs Tension Headache

Migraine pain is a type of pain that causes a pulsating sensation. It causes severe pain on one side of the head. Migraine pain makes the person exhausted, causing difficulty in day-to-day handling tasks. Its pain can range from some hours to a couple of days. It can affect people of every age, whether it be a child, teenager, or adult. 

Tension headache is the most common type of headache. It causes a mild sensation on both sides of the head. It exerts pressure across the forehead, causing moderate pain. It causes contractions in the head and neck muscles. It may feel like a tight band is placed around the forehead.

Comparison Table Between Migraine and Tension Headache

Parameters of ComparisonMigraine HeadacheTension Headache
IdentificationMigraine headaches cause aches on only one side of the head.Tension headaches cause pain on both sides of the head.
SeverityIt causes throbbing around the head and makes day-to-day tasks difficult to accomplish.Its pain isn’t severe as that of Migraine pain.
CausesIts exact cause is uncertain. They are usually caused by imbalances in brain activities or changes in hormones.It is caused by stress, tension, anxiety, and fatigue.
SymptomsIts symptoms include vomiting, nausea, sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.Its symptoms are eye strain, aching pain around the forehead, insomnia.
TreatmentIt is important to visit a doctor to treat migraine pain. A visit may include an MRI and CT scan and intake of prescribed medicines to relieve pain.It can be treated through getting proper sleep and water intake and, in some cases, using over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

What is Migraine Headache?

Migraine is a type of headache that causes a thumping sensation in the head. It is experienced on one side of the head. It makes the person exhausted. Even a slight physical activity like climbing stairs or walking causes severe pain. It can be identified through its symptoms which includes 

  • Moderate to severe pain worsening on one side of the head
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tingling of neck and face during pain
  • Soreness and uneasiness in doing slight physical activity

Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes may help in reducing pain to an extent. Proper and timely intake of medications might help. 

Stages of a migraine include:

  1. Premonitory stage: It is considered the first stage of experiencing migraine pain. In this stage, one can feel extremely thirsty, mood swings, food cravings, body stiffness, and tiredness.
  2. Aura: Aura is the consequence of a nerve signal that is transmitted throughout the brain. This stage is experienced during or before the headache and can last up to an hour.
  3. Attack: Migraine attacks may happen rarely or frequently depending upon the person. In this stage, one can feel sensitivity to light, smell, or sound, and vomiting. This is the best stage to take painkillers.
  4. Post-drome: It is also called the recovery stage. At this stage, one may feel drained or fatigued. Its symptoms are the same as the first stage(premonitory stage).

What is Tension Headache?

Tension headaches are also called stress or muscle contraction headaches. Tension headache is regarded as the most common type of headache. It is felt on both sides of the head. It causes the person to experience stiffness around the forehead and neck. It may be caused by stress, tension, or lifestyle. Most people experience it in their life. Tension headaches tend to cause pressure on the neck and shoulders, making the person feel discomfort. 

Tension-type headache is broadly classified into two categories:

  1. Chronic tension headaches: The headache starts from the back of the head or neck and spreads over the entire head. It worsens with each passing day. It occurs frequently and lasts for days.
  2. Episodic tension headache: Its symptoms are the same as chronic tension headaches. Though it occurs less frequently and lasts certainly for not more than a week.

Main Differences Between Migraine and Tension Headache

  1. Migraine headaches are more severe in terms of pain, discomfort, exhaustion, and treatment as compared to tension headaches.
  2. Migraine headaches are associated with vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light, touch, and smell. On the other hand, tension headaches are associated with tightness around the head and neck and slight aches.
  3. Migraine headaches require a visit to the doctor accompanied by some tests like an MRI or CT scan. Whereas tension headaches may be treated with proper sleep or over-the-counter medications.
  4. Major triggers of migraine headaches are smoking, alcohol, distress, sleeping patterns, food containing tyramine, etc. On the other hand, a tension headache is triggered by eyestrain, hunger, and tension. 
  5. Migraine headaches are prevalent in less proportion of individuals. Whereas tension headaches are common and have been experienced by almost everyone once in their life.


The severity of migraine pain helps to differentiate it from tension-type headaches. Both the headaches cause pain in the head which is nauseating and distressing. In case of suffering from frequent headaches, try keeping track of your lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle may help to prevent headaches.

Early detection of migraine headaches helps to reduce its effect. Migraine headaches occur in stages, detection of which will help the person to prevent him from suffering. 

Stress, tension and sleep deprivation is regarded as the most common cause of tension headaches. A persistent tension headache may deteriorate one’s health. Eating healthy, Quitting smoking, proper sleep, and meditation may prove to be good lifestyle changes.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005789480800013
  2. https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1986.hed2609465.x
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