man experiencing migraine headache 

When a headache strikes, it can strike hard, taking us down for the count and causing us to miss important events.


At one time or another, we have all had a headache come on, causing us to need to reach for the ibuprofen. However, when do we really know when a headache is just a headache, or a sign of a migraine?


Dr. Benjamin A. Jones, MD, neurologist at UAB Medical West, helps answer some frequently asked questions related to headaches and migraines so that you can find relief and return to your quality of life as soon as possible.  

The “Headache” of a Headache

Headaches are extremely common. In fact, headaches happen in about three out of every four people in the United States.


While tension headaches are the most common form, there are other types of headaches, including: 


  • Cluster headaches

  • Exertional headaches
  • Hypnic headaches
  • Migraines

Headache vs. Migraine: How Can You Tell the Difference?

While a person might suffer a headache, they might not necessarily have a migraine. Or, vice versa, where the person’s headache is actually the onset of a migraine. How do you know which is which?

“A headache is a broad term that includes many different types of head pain or cephalgia,” says Dr. Jones. “On the other hand, migraine refers to a specific type of headache with certain characteristics and associated symptoms, such as sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and/or vomiting.”

Since migraines and headaches come about in different ways, it is important to seek medical attention by a knowledgeable and and trained professional neurologist who can give you a proper medical evaluation and treatment plan for your given headache or migraine.


“There are a number of people who suffer from pain and muscle spasms in the neck, which may trigger headaches,” Dr, Jones says. “These cervicogenic headaches rarely respond to the typical medications used for migraine. As a result, they need to be approached differently in order to treat them effectively.”

Treatment Is Available!

If you are one of the 38 million Americans suffering from migraines, know that treatment is available so you can regain your quality of life, headache-free!


“Treatment of migraine really needs to be a multi-faceted approach, including lifestyle, diet, and medication,” Dr. Jones says. “What is often overlooked when treating migraines is the strong effects exerted by certain types of foods, overuse of abortive medicines, stress, and poor sleep. While it’s always popular to avoid certain foods like dark chocolate, red wine, or cheeses, doing so can make a major difference for some migraine sufferers and help them avoid having to take more medicines.”


If you do happen to need medication to assist in migraine relief, there are two forms: one to stop the migraine and the other to prevent the migraine from taking place.


“Successfully treating and controlling migraines and headaches more generally often requires more than just taking a medication every day. It typically requires identifying and avoiding triggers where possible,” explains Dr. Jones. “Our goal at UAB Medical West Neurology is to work with our patients to find an approach that can best address someone’s migraines using a combination of lifestyle and diet changes with the addition of medications where necessary.”


NOTE: If you happen to experience a headache that is significantly different than your typical headache, as well as is more severe, lasts longer, and/or has associated symptoms, such as weakness or sensory loss on one side of the body, fevers, or changes in level of consciousness, it is important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible in the nearest emergency department, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition like stroke.  

Are you tired of living with migraines? Contact the team at UAB Medical West today to schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options when finding relief from migraines.