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Sufferers of Migraines Face Serious Stigma



Individuals who suffer from frequent migraines not only must deal with the potentially disabling pain but also with the stigma associated with the condition by those who discount the debilitating impact of the headaches, says the results of a new study.

While many individuals who suffer from migraines have known for years that their condition often carries a stigma attached to it, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine have been not only able to verify that perception, but they also found the stigma migraine suffers experience is similar to the stigma attached to those individuals who suffer from panic attacks and epilepsy.

The results of this study were announced at this year’s International Headache Congress in Boston.

A Similar Stigma

Roughly 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraine symptoms and pain, according to studies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite that large number, the general perception is that migraine isn’t a serious condition, according to the results of the recent study.

The symptoms of migraines can include nausea, light sensitivity, and severe headache, and those who suffer from the condition may need bed rest and be unable to work while they recover. The effects of a severe migraine can be debilitating, which makes the stigma carried by the condition difficult for those trying to recover or justify a needed absence for work or school.

To determine how those who don’t suffer from the condition perceive migraines, researchers from the University of Vermont survey 765 U.S. residents the average age of 28. When presented with scenarios that described individuals with epilepsy, panic attack, migraine, and asthma, study participants answered questions on a test used to determine stigma towards illness.

The questionnaire helped to provide researchers insight into how people want to be associated with others. For example, participants were asked to explain how they would like to work along with someone who suffered from one of these conditions, and how comfortable they would be with the idea of inviting this coworker over for dinner.

Of the conditions described in the study, asthma received the lowest stigma score. However, while asthma scored low, researchers found that migraine, panic attack, and epilepsy all scored nearly identically on the stigma scale. The results of this study helped to reinforce the findings of early research that found migraine sufferers experienced more of a stigma than those with epilepsy.

A Change of Perspective

A lack of empathy was one of the biggest reasons why migraines carry such a heavy stigma, researchers concluded. Individuals who have never suffered a migraine tend to discount the condition as similar to a bad headache, which most people have dealt with at one time. Because the effects of a headache are relatively mild in comparison to migraines, a stigma arises due to the lack of empathy people have for a condition they view as more of a mild nuisance than debilitating.

Researchers hope that this perception of migraines and the stigma they carry might improve if public awareness of the condition were to change. Researchers recommend that individuals who suffer from migraines talk to friends, family, and coworkers about the condition so they can better understand the debilitating effects a migraine attack can have. Through better education of those around them, migraine suffers can hope to reduce stigma and improve their home and work environments.