HealthONE - July 30, 2018

An estimated 30 million people in American suffer from migraines. If you frequently get chronic headaches or migraines, you already know that your pain is real and can be debilitating. However, not everyone thinks that the pain from migraines is real, or may underestimate its severity.

The judgement migraine sufferers feel isn’t all in their head
Along with the pounding in your head, the stigma surrounding migraines is real and prevalent. A study conducted by the University of Vermont College of Medicine revealed that people who suffer from migraines are stigmatized — at the same level as people with a panic disorder or epilepsy.

Other studies have shown that people who have migraines or epilepsy also feel this stigma, which includes negative attitudes or unfair beliefs about people with these health conditions.

Key facts about migraines
To combat the stigma of migraines, communication and outreach is key. Here are some important things to know about migraines:

  1. Migraines are different from regular headaches — Migraines can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation in the head. Migraines are often accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.
  2. Migraines can last for extended periods of time — If left untreated, a migraine can last from four hours to up to three full days. The pain caused from a migraine can be disabling and make it very difficult for someone to work, drive and complete daily tasks.
  3. Migraines can go undiagnosed or untreated — It’s important to see a doctor if you are suffering from migraines or chronic headaches. Migraines can be triggered by a variety of things (like lack of sleep, stress or diet changes), but there are ways to treat or reduce the severity of these pounding headaches.

Educating others about migraines
For those who suffer from migraines, it can be helpful to tell others about your experience. This can aid in reducing the stigma of migraines and educating others about the condition. Here are some strategies to effectively talk about migraines to your family, friends and work colleagues:

  1. If you have to cancel plans due to a migraine, tell the other person about your condition when you’re feeling better. Don’t try to explain what’s happening while you’re still in pain. Wait until the pounding in your head subsides to talk about why you had to cancel plans.
  2. Have a discussion with your boss about your condition. If your migraines are getting in the way of your productivity at work, have a talk with your boss about the issue. You can also let human resources know that you suffer from this common health problem.
  3. Provide others with additional resources about migraines. According to The National Headache Foundation, migraines affect roughly 13 percent of the population and nearly three-quarters of migraine sufferers are women. If someone wants to learn more about migraines, direct them to the appropriate resources.

With greater awareness about the prevalence and seriousness of migraines, the stigma surrounding this health issue will fade away. Talk to your doctor about migraines, chronic headaches and ways to treat them.

Swedish Medical Center ranks among the nation's top neuroscience programs, and was designated as a Neuroscience Center of Excellence (COE). A leader in the field of neurology and neurosciences and the treatment of stroke, Swedish combines state-of-the-art technology with an outstanding team of staff and physicians who have extensive experience and expertise in treating nearly all forms of neurological disease.