FRIDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer from
chronic migraine headaches feel more rejected, ridiculed, and
ostracized by family, friends, and employers than patients with
other neurological troubles, a new study contends.
And the more severe the condition is, the more stigma victims
experience, the Philadelphia researchers say.
Lead author Dr. Jung E. Park, a neurological resident at Thomas
Jefferson University Hospital, said that people are often skeptical
of claims about migraine headaches because they are intangible.
"You can't see it, so people don't understand the condition," she
said, and co-workers and employers sometimes "think the person is
trying to get more time off for something unimportant" because they
"don't think the pain and suffering is real."
Many people with migraine experienced "separation, exclusion and
rejection in their relationships with family and friends when their
condition prevented them from fully engaging in family and social
events," the study found.
The greater the stigma, the lower the quality of life for
migraine sufferers as measured by absence from work, family events
and social life, according to the study, which the authors say is
the first to look at migraine and stigma.
The findings are to be presented this week at the annual meeting
of the American Headache Society (AHS) in Los Angeles.
The study relied on the Stigma Scale for Chronic Illness, an
instrument developed at Northwestern University, to compare the
stigma experienced by chronic migraine sufferers with people who
have episodic (non-chronic) migraine, stroke, epilepsy,
Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS,
or Lou Gehrig's disease). The scale measures factors such as how
often people feel criticized, misunderstood or ostracized for
having an illness.
The scores of 246 adult migraine sufferers -- all outpatients at
the hospital's Jefferson Headache Clinic -- were compared to those
of people with the other neurological conditions. Half of the
people with migraine had the headaches episodically, while the
other half suffered from chronic migraine.
Those with chronic migraine scored significantly higher on the
stigma scale than either people with episodic migraine or those
with other neurological conditions, Park said.
The stigma can reach deep into migraineurs' personal lives. For
example, Park said she has known married couples who divorced
because migraines were misunderstood.
"A husband felt that things weren't the same when his wife couldn't have sexual intercourse or maybe take care of the children as much as she once did," said Park. "When something impacts functioning like this, and is not well understood, we tend to stigmatize."
AHS president Dr. David Dodick said the research was important
because people with migraines have been strongly stereotyped in the
past as "high-strung, neurotic women who can't handle daily
Three times as many women as men get migraine, noted Dodick,
"likely due to the effect of fluctuating estrogen levels on brain
excitability" during the reproductive years.
And while onlookers may sometimes be skeptical about the reality
of migraine, migraine "is a real biological disorder," Dodick said.
Migraineurs typically become sensitive to light and sound, and
often suffer from nausea, diarrhea, and changes in blood pressure.
These conditions can persist even when no headache is present.
While migraines are genetically based in many cases, people who
get them tend to be less-educated and have relatively low incomes
because their functioning is so affected by the disease, Dodick
"There is such a thing as being 'present' at work but not really being able to function well," noted Dodick, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Many migraine sufferers lose their jobs because of their illness, he said, and because of stigma "many people are afraid to admit they get migraines." Sufferers can often become depressed, he added.
However, the new research "starts a conversation and is a step
toward banishing the stigma and allowing individuals with migraine
not to suffer in silence, and hopefully eliminates the burden, as
they are already burdened enough by the disease," said Dodick.
"Hopefully, this research will help them come out of the
Find out more about migraine at the
American Migraine Foundation.