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Headaches vs Migraines

This article originally appeared at as part of an interview with myself and the founder of Kristin Sapienza

The original content belongs to her and that website. Femfirsthealth is a company in NYC devoted to physical therapy and wellness service for women.

"According to the National Headache Foundation, close to 3/4 of Americans suffer from headaches and 12% of Americans suffer with migraines per year. However, there is a huge difference between headaches and migraines. Women are more likely to suffer from headaches and migraines due to a shift in hormones." We interviewed Dr. Huma Sheikh to help clarify some of the reasons why individuals may suffer from each. 

Dr. Huma Sheikh is a board-certified Harvard trained Headache Specialist and is the founder of NY Neurology Medicine, PC in Manhattan. She clearly explains that you have to think of headaches as a tipping of scales or shift in balance. There is some irritant or change in your body that can tip the scales, known as a trigger when it comes to migraines. Some examples are stress, changes in weather, hormonal shifts, or food/alcohol irritants. Even a history of concussions can lead to a lifetime of tipping the scales from a change or an irritant. 

Headaches are a symptom of something else going on and a migraine is a neurological condition. A migraine is a specific disorder with a genetic component. Essentially, a headache is a symptom of a migraine. Other symptoms of a migraine can be just an aura, sensitivity to lights, nausea or impaired vision. Some studies also show that in a specific subtype of migraine, migraine with aura, women may be at about 2 times the risk of stroke and possibly increased risk of other cardiovascular issues as well. 

Women tend to suffer from headaches and migraines more than men. The reason is for a shift in hormones. These symptoms can begin after a young woman starts her period all the way to menopause, when her hormones travel back to baseline. Women in their reproductive years from their 20’s – 40’s suffer the most. The symptoms follow a bell curve through a woman’s life. Estrogen is the main hormone responsible. During the menstrual cycle, the drop of estrogen in ovulation and before a period starts can be picked up by the neurons to trigger a headache or migraine. There are a number of new medications coming to the market with backed research, as well as the options of botox injections to help alleviate symptoms. 

Headaches and migraines during pregnancy can also be a problem that a lot of doctors give ambiguous answers to. Of course during pregnancy, you are limited to what medication you can take. Dr. Sheikh reports: “Most women have these symptoms during the first trimester and lessen with the second and third trimester”. She is able to perform peripheral nerve blocks that localize to the area near the source of the headache without affecting the baby. She also recommends holistic means and possibly a neuro-modulation device, although evaluation and speaking with a doctor is vital before starting any treatments.. 

No matter what stage of life you are in, Dr. Sheikh gives five recommendations to help reduce occurrence and severity of symptoms: 

1.) Getting adequate sleep 

2.) Decreasing stress levels 

3.) Getting regular exercise 

4.) Avoiding processed food and nitrates. 

5.) Trial and error to figuring out what tips your scale- a headache diary can be helpful with this

Ideally, a specific treatment plan with a holistic approach combined with medication/procedures can help provide proper treatment. She also recommends over the counter solutions to help prevent onset of symptoms such as magnesium (200-400mg), coenzymeQ10(50-100mg), and riboflavin (250mg). It’s always important to ask your doctor first before trying some of these supplements. Please reach out to Dr. Sheikh with any questions on her website at

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