What's the difference between migraine, cluster, and tension headaches?

Migraines and cluster headaches are vascular headaches, while tension headaches are not.

Cluster headaches are called that because they occur more in clusters and then go away. They usually occur in the exact same spot, and the person often experiences unilateral facial sweating and abnormal facial sensation. Cluster headaches are treated with the same medications that are given for migraine headaches.

Tension headaches are not vascular headaches. They don't have that pounding nature. There is more of a constant ache, and often the neck or the sides of the head are involved. Tension headaches tend to be more global, while migraine headaches usually are unilateral. The medications prescribed for migraine headaches rarely work for tension headaches.
Migraine and tension type headaches comprise the majority of headaches and are three times more common in women than in men.

Migraines consist of a throbbing pain usually only on one side of the head, and are associated with nausea, sensitivity to lights, sounds, smells. There may be an aura present before the headache, usually consisting of visual symptoms, which resolves with the onset of headache. Tension type headaches are usually less intense. They are non-throbbing and may feel like a tight band around the head, located in the back of the head or in the front. There is no associated nausea or photosensitivity.

Cluster headaches are more common in men than in women. They consist of a severe stabbing pain located behind the eye. That eye may tear, become red, while the eye lid may look droopy. The attacks are usually very short (5- 90 minutes) and may recur multiple times during the day. The attacks can occur at the same time of the day for days, thus the name "cluster".
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Many people don't know the differences between tension, cluster, and migraine headaches. Learn how to tell a migraine from a tension or cluster headache when Dr. Oz discusses how to ward off the pain in this video.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.