Migraine or Tension Headache?

Updated on September 18, 2012
A.M. asks from South Portland, ME
8 answers

My 20-year-old daughter complains of a headache three to four times a month. This has happened since she was in high school. She says that the pain begins behind her left eye (it's almost always her left one), and "moves" up to the top of her head, eventually returning to its original spot. It begins gradually, as a little hint of discomfort and progresses to a full headache. Sometimes some extra rest helps her; other times, it just goes away on its own. It happens at the same time every month, so we're thinking it's hormonal.
She is trying to find an over-the-counter medicine for it. The problem is that we don't know whether it is a migraine or a tension headache.
Thank you in advance, Moms!
Edit: We are not sure because she does have symptoms of both, and she wants to make sure that she's taking the right medication for it.

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So What Happened?


This is A.'s daughter. First, I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who responded. I did pick up some Extra Strength Migraine Relief tablets (Walgreen's brand) on Wednesday. And, sure enough, a migraine started last night. After taking two pills, my headache was diminished by 95%! I almost couldn't believe it!
So again, thank you for taking the time to answer our question... you moms saved the day!

Featured Answers



answers from Hartford on

Is she on the pill? Certain brands of the pill gave me migraines at the same time of the month. When I siwtched brands they stopped! Being a pill like seasonique helped me immensely-its been a year and i have only had one very mild migraine.

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answers from San Antonio on

My migraines always start behind my eye and then get worse. I thought they were sinus headaches until I finally told my doctor about them and he diagnosed them as migraines. Once i had the proper diagnosis and medicine they only lasted as long as it took to medicate...instead of two to four days long.



answers from Savannah on

When I went to the doctor to figure out what kind of headaches I was having, I was told that tension headaches will start at the back of the head/neck (which is what I get). It does not sound like she is getting a tension headache, so I would go with a migraine medication. If it doesn't work, the next headache I would try the tension meds. They are over the counter so it should not be too much for her body to handle (especially since she has some kind of headache). If neither medication works, I would go into the doctor and see what is recommended.



answers from Detroit on

Well, I'd go to the doctor to see what he or she thinks. I'd vote for migraine, given that they are cyclical. Hope she gets relief.



answers from Des Moines on

Look up reference locations for trigger points and see if the locations are where she describes.


answers from Norfolk on

I always think of tension headache as back of the neck.
For back of the eye it could be migraine or sinus.
When she gets a headache, does she become light sensitive (does a bright light make it feel worse?) - that's a common migraine symptom.
Is the headache worse when a weather front is moving through (big pressure changes) or there's a big jump (or drop) in temperature (I get these mostly in the spring or fall).?
That might also be a migraine indicator.
She should keep a headache diary so she can try to see if there are recurring triggers - foods, weather, her cycle, etc - this can be helpful if she ever has to take it to a doctor to help figure it out.
Sulfides and or MSG can trigger headaches in some people.
Behind the eye is a sinus area - deviated septum or a polyp might be a factor.
A doctor would xray her sinuses to look for any structural problems.
She should see if a warm saline rinse of her sinuses helps (use a neti pot) helps.
When I get my weather headaches (it's only a few times a year for me) Excedrin Migraine extra strength works well for me.
There was a temporary recall on it but it's expected to be back in stores by about October - and many people can't wait because the stuff works.
There's a generic version of it - Equate - which has the aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine but is not quite as effective for me as Excedrin.



answers from Boston on

Sounds like a migraine to me. I usually take ibuprofen when I have a hint of headache. If I wait until too long and the migraine has progressed the meds don't touch it. She should probably see a Dr. though. They might be able to give her prescription meds that can decrease the frequency or alleviate symptoms.


answers from Dover on

Try Excedrin...regular, migraine, or tension headache...very little difference and it works well either way. Because of the voluntary recall, you may not be able to get any until next month (they plan to have them back on the market starting sometime next month).

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