Just the word “migraine” itself is enough to strike fear in a reader’s heart and pain in a reader’s head. The classic symptoms of a migraine often include throbbing pain, auras, nausea, and hypersensitivity to light and sound. But what seems like the onset of a migraine may not necessarily be so. It could be a less urgent situation—or even more urgent. Here are some conditions that can mimic a migraine and how you can treat them if they should arise.
What seems like a migraine may be a simple case of a sinus headache. Because both are defined by severe head pain, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Inflammation of the sinuses and sinus passages can mimic some of the symptoms of a migraine, namely watery eyes, pain around the nose and face, and nasal congestion. Where a sinus headache diverges from a migraine is primarily in nausea and vomiting—while these are common symptoms of a migraine, they are unlikely to occur as a result of mere sinusitis. While a sinus headache is no walk in the park, you can treat its symptoms with anti-inflammatories and decongestants, while they may be less effective against the neurological basis of a migraine.
Transient Ischemic Attack
Similar in its neurological nature but considerably more serious, a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a dangerous “mini stroke” in which some symptoms can resemble the auras and difficulty speaking that migraine sufferers experience. But, unlike a migraine, a TIA often causes facial drooping and weakness across one side of the body. And while a stroke or mini stroke can be debilitating, they are not accompanied by the severe pain of a migraine. If you have reason to believe that you or a loved one is suffering from a TIA rather than a migraine, it’s best to call 9-1-1 or immediately get to your local hospital in order to mitigate the effects of the attack.
Owing to their similar severity, localization of severe pain, and their shared occurrence of auras, cluster headaches are another condition that can mimic a migraine. However, cluster headaches, though no less painful, have a shorter duration than migraines and are considerably rarer as well. Someone with a cluster headache may find themselves rocking back and forth, pacing, or otherwise moving to try to manage the pain. Cluster headaches, as the name implies, occur in clusters and then not again for some time. Intranasal lidocaine can be a treatment for cluster headaches.