The Stigma of Migraine: It's Real

Find out why migraine sufferers feel a certain stigma attached to their pain.

Medically reviewed in March 2020

If you're one of the 30 million Americans who suffer from migraines, you know that your pain is real and oftentimes disabling. Even worse, others may not fully comprehend your suffering, and might brush off your symptoms as no big deal. Now, research is showing just how commonly that happens.

Think you may have migraines? Use AskMD to check your symptoms.

Migraines: A source of shame?
In one study, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine recently conducted an online poll of 765 Americans to determine how much stigma—that is, negative attitudes or unfair beliefs—is attached to several common conditions, including migraines. The survey asked questions such as how comfortable a person would be working with someone with the condition or if they would want to invite the person to a dinner party. The study found that people with migraines truly are stigmatized—at about the same level as people with epilepsy or panic disorder.

In separate research, people who had migraines or epilepsy reported that they felt similar amounts of stigmatization. But, interestingly, migraine sufferers were more likely to have negative attitudes toward themselves or expect that others think less of them. Both studies were presented at the 2013 International Headache Congress in Boston.

Communication is key
So, what's a migraine sufferer to do to help others better understand their condition and put a halt to the stigma involved? It all comes down to communication. While people who have regular headaches (that’s almost everybody) can get relief by popping a pill, migraine sufferers are different and should let others know by simply telling them about their experience.

Learn the difference between migraines and regular headaches.

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's getting in the way of your productivity at work, talk to your boss and let him or her know how your performance is being affected by your pain. With greater awareness about the condition, experts say, the stigma—and any shame you feel—will fade away.

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