The Stigma of Migraine: It's Real

Find out why people with migraine headaches may feel a certain judgment attached to their pain.

man working in office with migraine headache

Updated on March 3, 2023

If you're one of the 39 million Americans who experiences migraines, you know that your pain is real and can even feel debilitating. But others may not fully comprehend your experience, and might brush off your symptoms as no big deal. Now, research is showing just how commonly that happens.

Migraines: A source of shame?

When it comes to stigma, the lived experience of people with migraines is well documented. People with regular migraines often report encountering high levels of social stigma (sometimes called public stigma), which can affect their physical health as well as their overall quality of life. 

Research backs up these reports: Migraine stigma does exist, and it isolates people with migraines. In a survey of people without migraine conducted in 2018, researchers found that nearly one-third of the 2,000 respondents thought people with migraines exaggerate symptoms to get out of commitments. Many participants engaged in victim-blaming, with 36 percent saying people get migraines due to their own unhealthy behaviors. About 29 percent of respondents believed that people with migraines use their condition to get pain medications they don’t actually need, and 27 percent thought a migraine was a way to get attention.

People with migraines may also experience structural stigma, in which institutions create policies—or don’t create them—that make migraines a source of stress and shame. A company that won’t allow a break for someone experiencing a migraine would be considered an example of structural stigma.  

Internalized stigma, in which people feel shame and believe negative narratives about themselves, is often reported by those with migraines, as well.

Communication is key

What can a person who experiences migraines do to reduce stigma? It starts with communication. 

To help friends, family, and colleagues better understand, consider sharing your migraine experience. For example, if you've made plans with a friend but have to cancel them when you're in the throes of a migraine, take the time when you're feeling better to explain your pain.

And if a migraine may get in the way of your productivity at work, talk to your boss. Let them know how your performance may be affected. If you feel comfortable, suggest some accommodations that could help. These might include access to natural light, quiet spaces, areas without strong scents, and regular breaks. 

To work through internalized stigma, it may help to see a counselor or therapist, or join a support group for people with migraines. Speak with your healthcare provider for recommendations.

More than a billion people worldwide experience migraines. It's important to remember that you’re not alone—and there’s help available.

Article sources open article sources

American Migraine Foundation. Migraine 101: What You Should Know. Accessed on January 31, 2023. 
Parikh SK, et al. “Stigma and Migraine: Developing Effective Interventions.” Current pain and headache reports. 2021;25:11-75. 
Gvantseladze K, Do TP, Hansen JM, Shapiro RE, et al. The Stereotypical Image of a Person With Migraine According to Mass Media. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. 2020;60:1465-1471.
Seng EK, Shapiro RE, Buse DC, et al. The unique role of stigma in migraine-related disability and quality of life. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. 2022;62(10):1354-1364. 
Begasse de Dhaem O, Fumihiko S. Migraine in the workplace. eNeurologicalSci. 2022;27:100408. 
Martínez-Fernández A, Rueda Vega M, Quintas S, et al. Psychosocial repercussion of migraine: is it a stigmatized disease?. Neurol Sci. 2020;41(8):2207-2213. 
Parikh SK, Young WB. Migraine: Stigma in Society. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019;23(1):8. 
(2019), 61st Annual Scientific Meeting American Headache Society® July 11 -14 2019 Pennsylvania Convention Center Philadelphia, PA. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 59:1-208;OR15.
American Migraine Foundation. The Impact of Stigma on Migraine. November 10, 2022.
American Migraine Foundation. Migraine Stories. Accessed on February 1, 2023.

Featured Content


10 Minute Meditation for Migraines

Clear your mind with this soothing, beginner-meditation for migraines.

Patient Perspectives: How Migraines Affect Family Life

Migraine patients discuss how the condition impacts their lives and families.

Interactive Patient Journey: Overcoming Chronic Migraine

Hear the inspiring story of how Heloisa deals with the painful symptoms and unpredictability of chronic migraines.