Migraines: When is it More than Just a Headache?

“Ugh, all this noise is giving me a migraine!”

We’ve likely all muttered this phrase at one time or another to describe an exaggerated, throbbing, relentless headache. For the 39 million Americans who suffer from migraines, however, the reality of this neurological disease is devastatingly painful, and for many, disruptive to their day-to-day lifestyle. Where, then, is the line between a terrible headache and a more severe migraine? Can the pain adequately be measured, or are there other symptoms that indicate are more severe condition?

What is a Headache?

A headache is an aching or sensation of pressure, most often on both sides of the head. Headaches range from mild to severe, sometimes focus on the temples, forehead, or back of the neck, and can last from 30 minutes to seven days. The most common form of headaches is a tension headache, typically caused by stress, anxiety, or muscle strain.

What is a Migraine?

Unlike a typical tension headache, a migraine is a neurological disease marked by various symptoms that include more than head pain. Like tension headaches, they can range in severity and length. For a migraine sufferer, changes in brain activity impact blood flow in the brain and surrounding areas. In addition to head pain, during a migraine, a person may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to noise, light, or smells
  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion or fatigue

Migraines can be triggered by a variety of factors, depending on the person, and may include:

  • Gender – Women are three times more likely than men to suffer migraines
  • Genetics – Those with a family history of migraines are more likely to experience them as well
  • Hormonal shifts – For women, hormonal changes, including the menstrual cycle, may trigger a migraine
  • Allergies – Since allergies cause inflammation, a common migraine trigger, some people who suffer from allergies experience related migraines

In addition to the common factors listed above, some people find that their migraines are brought on by such factors as stress, sleep deprivation, some foods, smells, or even the weather.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine

If you have the following symptoms, you may be experiencing a tension headache:

  • Pain on both sides of the head
  • A sensation of pressure, rather than throbbing
  • Tightness or soreness in your neck, shoulders, temples, and upper body muscles

If you have the following symptoms, you may be experiencing a migraine:

  • Throbbing head pain that may be more severe on one side
  • Nausea
  • Pain that escalates with activity
  • A worsening of symptoms from light, sound, and smells
  • A tingling in your face or arm before the head pain sets in
  • You see flashing lights, dots, or wavy lines

When to See Your Doctor

Understanding and accurately diagnosing a typical headache and a migraine can make the crucial difference between ongoing suffering and obtaining proper treatment. Maybe, more importantly, it can help you minimize the continuous frequency of your painful symptoms. If you believe that you are suffering from regular migraines, talk to your doctor. With an effective treatment plan and a commitment to essential lifestyle changes, you can stop living in fear of debilitating pain and start reclaiming your lifestyle.

Upset Stomach? Could it be a Stomach Virus or Food Poisoning?

It comes on suddenly, sometimes in the middle of the night. Your forehead is clammy, and your stomach feels like a rock. You start pleading with the universe not to vomit, but your words go unnoticed as you rocket out of bed and to your bathroom. You are sick, but is it something you ate (maybe the grocery store sushi?), or could it be a stomach bug? If you have a high fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or are vomiting blood, seek emergency treatment right away. Otherwise, if you’re feeling ill and have a fever and upset stomach, read on to understand the differences in symptoms between a stomach virus and food poisoning.

Stomach Virus (gastroenteritis)

Food Poisoning


Fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal cramps, joint stiffness, weight loss

Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and malaise, muscle aches, headache, sweating. eye swelling, difficulty breathing, thirst


A Virus

A parasite, bacteria, or a virus

Time Between Exposure and Initial Symptoms

One to two days

Two to six hours

Is it Contagious?


Food poisoning caused by certain bacteria, viruses, or parasites is contagious; when caused by chemicals or toxins found in the food, it is not contagious

Extreme Risks

There is no effective treatment for viral enteritis; for children, the elderly, and immunocompromised adults, it could be deadly, so prevention is crucial

The most common food poisoning risk factor is dehydration, however for infants, seniors, and immunocompromised adults, severe dehydration may require hospitalization, and in the most severe cases, dehydration can be fatal

How to Prevent Viral Enteritis

Protecting yourself from a stomach virus is similar to the techniques you should be following to protect yourself from COVID-19. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, avoid touching your face, minimize exposure to people with symptoms, or who have been exposed to the virus.

How to Avoid Food Poisoning

While the symptoms of a viral infection and food poisoning are similar, not surprisingly, the preventive measures are different. When cooking, especially with raw meat, seafood, and eggs, keep your food preparation area and equipment clean. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly to recommended temperatures, keep perishable foods refrigerated and do not consume food items that have passed their expiration date. If an item smells, looks, or tastes funny, throw it out.

Types of Food Poisoning

There are over 250 types of foodborne illnesses that can be categorized as having one of three causes:

  • Bacteria that enter the body through contaminated food, such as:
    • Salmonella
    • Shigella
    • Listeria
    • coli
    • Campylobacter jejuni
    • Staphylococcus aureus (staph)
  • Viruses such as:
    • Norovirus
    • Hepatitis A
  • Parasites such as:
    • Giardia duodenalis
    • Cryptosporidium parvum
    • Trichinella spiralis
    • Taenia saginata
    • Taenia solium
    • Cyclospora cayetanensis
    • Toxoplasma gondii

When to See Your Doctor

Do not feel the pressure to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Adults should contact their doctor when experiencing viral enteritis—or possibly food poisoning—symptoms if:

  • You can’t keep any liquids down for 24 hours
  • You’ve been vomiting for over two days
  • You have a fever over 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • There is blood in your vomit or bowel movements
  • You are experiencing signs of dehydration, which include excessive thirst, dry mouth, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, deep yellow urine, or little to no urine

If you are a parent and your child is experiencing any of the following, contact your doctor right away:

  • A fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Lethargy or irritability
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Dehydration

For most people who contract viral enteritis or food poisoning, the symptoms—though terribly uncomfortable, will pass. Still, if you have any concerns over your symptoms or escalate into the noted severe warning signs, contact your doctor. They will determine if a telemedicine or in-person appointment is best to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

You may not have heard of metabolic syndrome, but it’s one of the most common health dangers in the country. As many as one-third of American adults have metabolic syndrome, and if left unmanaged, the condition could be deadly. What is metabolic syndrome, who’s at risk, and what can you do if you think you might have it? Keep reading to find out.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of five risk factors that increase your risk of ischemic heart disease and other severe chronic health conditions such as stroke and type II diabetes. Ischemic heart disease occurs when plaque, a waxy material, builds up inside the heart’s arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow adequately through the body as it hardens. If untreated, ischemic heart disease can result in chest pain, heart attack, and even death.

What are the Five Factors that Cause Metabolic Syndrome?

The five dangerous health conditions that, if present, result in metabolic syndrome and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes include:

  • Increased blood pressure, which over time, can damage your heart
  • Excess body fat around the waist called abdominal obesity
  • High triglyceride levels, as triglycerides are a form of fat found in the blood
  • Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol; often called good cholesterol since it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries; if your HDL levels are too low, you could be at risk for heart disease
  • High fasting blood sugar, which could be an early warning sign of type II diabetes and may be the result of insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can’t properly use insulin

Metabolic syndrome is becoming increasingly common among U.S. adults in part because of the rise of obesity in our country. Some health researchers predict that metabolic syndrome may soon surpass smoking as the leading cause of heart disease.

If I Have One Risk Factor, Do I have Metabolic Syndrome?

The presence of just one of the health factors listed above does not mean that you have metabolic syndrome. However, any of the four health factors can increase your risk of dangerous health conditions, particularly if unmanaged. If you have three or more, your doctor will most likely diagnose you with metabolic syndrome and talk to you about reversing your symptoms.

What to Do if You are Diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a severe condition, but it does not have to escalate into a catastrophic event. Aggressive lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, regular exercise, and healthy diet changes, can all help reduce the health factors that lead to metabolic syndrome, and that put you at risk for a heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. If you believe that you might be at risk of developing metabolic syndrome—and its related health dangers, talk to your doctor. They can help you create a treatment plan to improve your health and reduce your chances of a dangerous and possibly deadly health event.

Is it Pneumonia or COVID-19?

COVID-19 is colliding with flu and pneumonia season. All three are dangerous respiratory illnesses, especially for sensitive populations such as individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma. If you have chest pain or are struggling to breathe, immediately seek emergency care. Otherwise, depending on your symptoms’ severity, if you believe that you have pneumonia or COVID-19, you should make an appointment with your primary care provider. They can determine if you are at adverse risk and what treatment plan you should follow to expedite recovery with minimal risk of serious complications.

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a recently discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Most diagnosed individuals with COVID-19 experience mild to moderate respiratory illness. In contrast, seniors and individuals with underlying conditions such as chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are at a higher risk of severe complications or death. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection in which the tiny air sacs inside the lungs become inflamed with fluid and pus, making it hard to breathe. Other symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

For some individuals, their pneumonia becomes so severe that they must be hospitalized and given oxygen or put on a ventilator to help support their respiratory functions.

Pneumonia as a Complication of COVID-19

While both COVID-19 and pneumonia are both respiratory illnesses, and both cause many of the same symptoms, they are even more closely related. Some people with COVID-19 or the flu develop pneumonia due to the viral infection that causes these infections. Many times with COVID-19 patients, the pneumonia forms in both lungs, putting the patient at severe risk of respiratory complications. However, you can develop pneumonia due to bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, even if you don’t have COVID-19 or the flu.

Is it Pneumonia or COVID-19?

If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough and believe that you might have COVID-19 or pneumonia, your doctor will be most likely to determine the cause of your symptoms, and they may need an x-ray or CT scan to do so. Upon imaging a patient’s lungs, a doctor can determine if a patient is suffering from bacterial pneumonia or a viral infection such as COVID-19.

What Happens if You Have COVID-19 and Pneumonia?

Eighty percent of coronavirus patients experience only mild symptoms. When a COVID-19 case becomes exacerbated, however, or an individual has a weakened immune system due to an existing or chronic health condition, they may be at risk of developing pneumonia. If you develop pneumonia in addition to COVID-19, your doctor may attempt to treat your conditions with antibiotics, antiviral steroids, and extensive respiratory support.

While most people who recover from pneumonia do not experience any lasting lung damage, experts are finding that this might not be the case with patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, as they may experience difficulty breathing for months.

What to Do if You have COVID-19 or Pneumonia Symptoms

Minimize your chances of contracting COVID-19 or pneumonia this season. Maintain social distance, wash your hands regularly, and avoid touching your face. If you do experience symptoms, talk to your doctor. At Nova Health, we offer both telemedicine and in-person appointments, with walk-ins and same-day appointments available at many of our urgent care centers. Your doctor will diagnose the cause of your symptoms and help you create a treatment plan for improvement.