Womens Health
Migraine Home
Womens Health Home
Migraine Health
Aetna Home
Contact Us
Tension Headaches And Migraine Headaches
(What Is The Difference?)

From the Aetna Migraine Management Program

There are two main types of headaches: tension and migraine. Your doctor can tell you what type you have. He or she can look at your medical history and perform a physical exam. Sometimes, other tests may be needed.

Tension headaches may feel like a band of pain around the head. The pain can spread to the neck and scalp. This tension may be aggravated by stress, tiredness, and getting upset or angry.

Migraine headaches usually cause a very severe, throbbing pain that often starts on one side of the head and then spreads to the face and entire head. Some people may have both migraine and tension headaches.




Feels like a band of pain around the head. Pain can spread to neck and scalp, and is caused by tension in neck.

Feels like a severe and throbbing pain that often starts on one side of the head and may spread to the entire face and head.

Frequency and Duration

Some kinds of tension headaches don't happen that often and may last only a few hours. Other kinds may happen every day and last for days at a time.

May occur only once a year or several times a month and usually last 4 to 72 hours


Usually occurs on both sides of the head in the forehead, temples, or back of head and neck.

Usually starts on one side of the head or in one small area, but may spread to entire head.

Strength of Pain

Mild to severe; usually not debilitating

Usually moderate to severe and very hard to bear

Nature of Pain

Dull, aching, not throbbing

Pounding, throbbing, pushing

Other Symptoms

Some tension headaches may cause dizziness, poor concentration, sleepiness or difficulty sleeping.

Upset stomach; vomiting; sensitivity to light, noise or smell; runny nose, watery eyes, blurry vision. Some migraine headaches may even be mild in pain but cause other symptoms.


Not present

May be present

Source: National Headache Foundation and American Council for Headache Education

Last updated January 8, 2010