If you're one of the 30 million people in the United States who experience migraines at least once a year, you probably know your body well enough to tell when it's coming. But if you don't know your body that well, or it's your first time having a migraine, you may not understand what's happening.
But there are big differences between a common headache and a migraine... and could mean life or death:
The cause of your head pain could be a good indicator of whether you're experiencing a migraine or just a headache. If your head pain is consistently correlated with lack of sleep, hard work, or loud noise, you may be having a headache. Migraines, on the other hand, are usually caused by specific triggers. You may be experiencing a migraine if your head pain correlates with certain activities such as drinking large amounts of caffeine, eating foods with certain additives, smelling strong fumes from paint, or seeing bright or flashing lights.
Migraines differ from headaches because migraines come with an experience called an "aura." Auras are defined as "sensations that a person experiences before he or she gets a migraine." During an aura, you become more sensitive to sounds, light, and smells and may crave certain foods. It's important to pay attention to these triggers. If you can identify your migraine early enough, you can take medication to help. If you note severe changes in your aura, you may be at a higher risk of having a stroke.
Paying attention to these differences can make a huge impact on your life. By noticing your symptoms you can talk with your doctor about taking different medications to keep your pain from getting worse. And by paying attention to the identifiers of a headache versus a migraine, you can make an informed decision before driving or putting yourself in a potentially dangerous position.
If you are at risk for severe auras before your migraine, research the symptoms of a stroke carefully, too. Share these differences with your loved ones so that they can avoid unnecessary pain.