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Coping With the Stigma of Migraine

By

Katrina Woznicki

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male stressed at work

A coworker feels annoyed that you left the office early because of a “bad headache.” Your neighbor disapproves when you bail on a dinner invitation for the same reason.

It turns out that negative perceptions about migraines aren’t all in your head. Recent research found that people with migraines are indeed viewed negatively. A total of 765 people were quizzed about their attitudes toward those with migraines. The findings? Stigma against people with migraines is equal to the stigma against those with epilepsy or panic disorder. The stigma is also much higher than the stigma towards people with asthma. Survey respondents replied that people with migraines and epilepsy would make poor work colleagues or dinner party guests.

A Real Disorder

Chances are you know someone who has migraines. The condition affects 12% of Americans, including children. Migraine is three times more common among women than men. The incidence of migraine is highest among those ages 30 to 60. Migraine strikes when people are busy juggling careers, families, and social commitments.

Migraine is more than just a bad headache. It’s a complex neurological disorder that can be quite debilitating. Symptoms can include severe, throbbing headache—often in one area of the head—sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. It can last up to three days. Often, people seek out quiet, dark places, where they can rest alone until symptoms pass. Riding out a migraine attack makes it difficult to go about daily activities. This leads to feelings of social isolation.

Preparation Goes a Long Way

While migraines can be unpredictable, understanding what sets them off is important. A little planning can help make you feel more in control and minimize awkward situations at work or home. You can’t change people’s attitudes, but you can change the stress and anxiety you might feel about having migraines. And learning how to better manage migraines can take some of the sting out of any perceived stigma. In fact, research suggests effective treatment of migraine might go a long way in addressing your anxieties, depression, and ability to take care of yourself. Try these tips:

  • Keep a diary of when migraines occur so you can identify triggers. For example, do migraines come on during a certain point in your menstrual cycle, or if you eat a certain food? Knowing your migraine triggers and reducing or eliminating them, if possible, is key to managing migraines.

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and processed foods. Red wine; caffeine found in coffee, tea, and chocolate; and other foods, including cheese, may set off a migraine. Unfortunately, these are often the types of foods served at social events. If you have a social engagement, eat beforehand so you don’t have to worry about what kind of food will be served. You can focus on just enjoying yourself.

  • Practice relaxation. Stress can make migraines worse. Managing stress through practices such as yoga, tai chi, or mindful meditation may reduce your symptoms.

Key Takeaways

  • The stigma against people with migraines is similar to the stigma against those who have epilepsy or panic disorder. Most people understand very little about migraine.

  • Migraine is three times more common among women than men. The incidence is highest among those ages 30 to 60.

  • Learning to manage your migraines gives you back control and takes some of the sting out of any perceived stigma.

  • Eat a healthy diet, practice relaxation, and keep a diary of when migraines occur so you can identify triggers.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 19, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Sun-Edelstein C and Mauskop A. Alternative Headache Treatments: Nutraceuticals, Behavioral and Physical Treatments. Headache. 2011 Mar;51(3):469-83.
  2. Migraine and You: An Educational Guide for Migraine Sufferers. American Headache Society. http://www.americanheadachesociety.org/professional_resources/patient_education/
  3. Shapiro RE and Reiner PB. Stigma Towards Migraine. Cephalalgia. 2013; 33 (supplement):17.
  4. Is a Hemicranial Headache Always Migraine? American Headache Society http://www.americanheadachesociety.org/assets/1/7/Brian_Grosberg_-_Is_Hemicranial_Headache_Always_Mi...
  5. Low-Tyramine Diet for Migraine. National Headache Foundation http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/low-tyramine-diet-for-migraine/
  6. NINDS Migraine Information Page. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm
  7. Migraine. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/migraine.html

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