Difference between Meningitis Headache and Migraine

Migraine attacks can be painful enough to interfere with your daily activities. This kind of headache can cause a significant discomfort-of pain for hours to days. It can be attributed by many causes, from mild to serious – fortunately it is usually not dangerous and treatable. And sometimes meningitis headache can also be like other common headache attacks. What is the difference?

Migraine symptoms and causes

Migraine is a kind of headache in which you have a throbbing pain that typically affects one side of your head, though not always. If you have it, you’re not alone because it’s a common health problem affecting about 1 in out of every 15 men and 1 in every 5 women.


Warning symptoms of migraine called ‘aura’ might occur before or during the attack. Typically, they involve vision disturbances. In some cases, aura may also include disturbances of verbal (speech), sensory (touching sensations), or motor (movement).

The following are some examples of migraine aura:

  1. Vision impairment /disturbance (seeing bright spot or various shapes).
  2. Verbal difficulties, such as difficulty speaking.
  3. Jerking (uncontrollable) or other abnormal movements.
  4. Hearing loudness (noises).
  5. Numbness /weakness in particular area of the body such as facial area or one side of the body.
  6. A sensation of unusual, uncomfortable pricking or tingling (pins and needles), typically in the leg or arm.

Each of these migraine aura symptoms often starts gradually, builds up within several minutes and usually will last for about 20-60 minutes. Interestingly, most cases of migraine occur without aura.

Besides aura, sometimes you might have subtle changes that signal an upcoming migraine. These include food cravings, constipation, changes in mood, increased thirst, a stiff neck, and frequent yawning.

During the attack, you usually experience some of the following symptoms:

  1. Headache that feels like pulsing or throbbing pain. Again the pain usually occurs on one side of the head. But in some cases, it can also affect both sides of the head.
  2. More sensitive to sounds or/and light – sometimes also to smells or touch.
  3. Changes in eyesight, such as blurred vision.
  4. Lightheadedness (dizziness), which may also be followed with a feeling to faint.
  5. Nausea and vomiting.
Types of migraine

Depending on the symptoms and migraine aura that occur, the problem is classified into the following categories:

  1. Silent migraine, also called aura without headache, is a condition of when you have migraine without throbbing pain (headache) but you experience an aura or other symptoms of the attack.
  2. Migraine without aura, as the name suggests, this most common type of migraine develops without any specific warning signs.
  3. Migraine with aura, when the problem has some specific warning signs and symptoms (aura) just before it begins.

The exact cause is not always identifiable. Even many times, the causes are not known. However, there are some theories.

It is thought to be the result of changes in the brainstem and brain chemicals. This abnormal brain activity may temporarily affect nerve signals. For example, a drop of serotonin (a brain chemical that is responsible to control pain in your nervous system) often occurs during migraine attacks.

No one knows exactly what causes this change. But in general, genetics and environmental factors may have a role to make someone more likely to have migraine attacks as a result of a specific trigger.

Some factors /conditions that may trigger and worsen migraine are as follows:

  1. Changes in hormones. In women with a history of migraine, the problem often flares up before or during menstrual bleeding, when they usually have a significant drop of estrogen. Some women are more likely to have the problem during pregnancy or menopause. Medications that involve hormones, such as hormone replacement therapy and hormonal birth control pills, may also trigger the attack.
  2. Dietary factors. These include consuming too much processed foods, salty foods, aged cheese, food additives (like preservative MSG, monosodium glutamate), caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
  3. Feeling stressed out.
  4. Sun glare or bright lights (sensory stimuli). Sometimes strong smells, secondhand smoke and paint thinner for examples, may also have an effect.
  5. Too much sleep or missing sleep (changes in your wake-sleep pattern).
  6. Extreme intense physical exertion or other physical factors.
  7. Changes of barometric pressure, weather, or other environmental factors.

Meningitis headache vs. migraine

Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the meninges, tough layers of protective tissue covering your brain and spinal cord. Depending on the cause of the disease, it can lead to a significant brain swelling and serious complications.

There are several causes, which are classified into two categories; infectious and non-infectious causes. In most cases, meningitis is caused by viral infections. Other infectious causes are bacterial and fungal infections.

In rare cases, the disease is associated with non-infectious causes. These include certain non-infectious conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, for example), certain medications, and injury.

Though most people with meningitis can fully recover, again the disease could turn into serious or even life-threatening (this is especially true for bacterial meningitis). Viral meningitis is more treatable and less likely to cause serious lingering after effects.

Clearly diagnosis is important to make sure that if you do need treatment you can get it immediately! So it’s worth a try to understand warning signs of the disease!

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for everyone to catch meningitis symptoms early. Meningitis headache, for example, can resemble those of other headaches caused by mild conditions, making you less unaware and delay seeing a doctor.

Meningitis headache may feel like throbbing pain of migraine. But it is usually more severe, more persistent (not easy to relieve, even though with rest and over-the-counter pills) – it seems different than normal. And typically, it comes with the following classic meningitis symptoms: