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Migraine Headache vs Encephalitis and Meningitis Headaches

Updated on March 18, 2012

Headaches are so common and so varied with some headaches being completely harmless while some headaches are sign and symptoms of something much more serious and in some cases, could even be life-threatening. Different headaches requires different types of medication and medical treatment hence it is really important to know how to differentiate between the different types of headaches especially the more severe headaches such as migraine headaches, encephalitis and meningitis headaches.

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are usually very debilitating that can last between just a few hours to even many days. Migraine headache arises due to the activation of certain chemicals the most common one being serotonin, also known as 5-HT. Serotonin is a potent neuro-transmitter that helps in transmitting messages between the nerve cells within the brain.

Serotonin is usually present in the gastrointestinal system, blood vessels and the brain. An increase in the chemical called 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid, which is a by-product of serotonin, was discovered in the migraine sufferer’s urine at the onset of a migraine flare-up. It is also believed that the changes in the brain serotonin levels may cause the symptoms of mood changes, nausea and vomiting that migraine sufferers encountered during an attack of migraine.

Signs and symptoms of migraine

Some of the common signs of migraine are:

  • Headaches lasting between four to seventy-two hours
  • Headache occurring on one side of the head
  • Throbbing and sometimes excruciating head pain
  • Head pain is made worse with activities such as stair climbing or walking.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extremely sensitive to sound or light
  • Tingling in the legs and arms

Encephalitis and meningitis headaches

Both encephalitis and meningitis are potentially life-threatening ailments and requires immediate medical attention. Encephalitis is an inflammation of infection of the brain while meningitis is the inflammation of infection of the membranes that covers the spinal cord or the brain.

Both encephalitis and meningitis are caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. Viral meningitis is not so serious and it is quite rare of it to require hospitalization. Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, is a very serious infection that requires immediate medication and hospitalization. For some cases, meningitis can also arise from non-infectious causes such as chemical irritation or tumors.

Encephalitis is a severe condition usually due to lead poisoning and potentially can cause permanent disability, brain swelling, coma or even the demise of the person.

Signs and symptoms of encephalitis and meningitis

Look out for these signs and symptoms of encephalitis and meningitis.

  • Severe headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Appetite loss
  • Skin rash
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Flu-like symptoms

If encephalitis and meningitis are left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead very quickly to seizures, coma and can even become life-threatening.

Besides understanding the difference between migraine headache and encephalitis or meningitis headaches, it will also be beneficial to understand the difference between migraine and other types of headaches.


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