THURSDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- Those who get migraines
have to deal not only with the pain, which can be disabling, but
the stigma caused by others who tend to discount the impact of the
debilitating headaches, a new study shows.
"We were able to validate that people who have migraine are not
mistaken that they feel they are stigmatized," said lead researcher
Dr. Robert Shapiro, a professor of neurological sciences at the
University of Vermont College of Medicine. "We have found those
perceptions are well-grounded, and that the stigma that people with
migraine experience is of a similar magnitude to the stigma people
with epilepsy and panic attack experience," he noted.
"The general attitude is that migraine is not a serious or valid
condition," he said. In the study, those with asthma experienced
the least amount of stigma of the four conditions studied. Epilepsy
patients can experience unpredictable seizures and the condition is
known to carry a stigma. Panic attacks, where sufferers experience
bouts of intense fear, are also unpredictable.
Shapiro is due to present the findings Sunday at the
International Headache Congress in Boston.
About 29.5 million Americans are affected by migraine pain and
symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Symptoms can include severe headache, light sensitivity
and nausea. Those who are affected may need bed rest and may be
unable to work while they are experiencing a migraine.
Shapiro polled 765 people online. All were U.S. residents, with
an average age of 28. When presented with vignettes that described
people with asthma, migraine, panic attack and epilepsy, the survey
participants answered questions on a well-known test used to assess
stigma towards illness.
The questionnaire, Shapiro explained, "just provides insight
into how someone wants to be associated with someone else." For
instance, respondents told how likely they were to want to work
with someone with one of the four conditions, and how comfortable
they would be inviting them to a dinner party.
The lowest stigma score was for those with asthma. "What we
found was the score for migraine versus epilepsy versus panic
attack were quite close together and quite similar," Shapiro
The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research. Peter Reiner, of the University of British Columbia, also
conducted the research.
Some of Shapiro's findings echo those from another study,
published earlier this year, in which researchers from Thomas
Jefferson University Hospital's Headache Center found that chronic
migraine patients experienced more stigma than did those with
epilepsy, while those with episodic migraines experienced less
stigma than those with chronic migraines.
The latest finding did not surprise Dr. Randall Berliner, a
neurologist and psychiatrist specializing in headache disorders at
Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"This is a very common problem," said Berliner, who was not
involved in the study.
"If you don't have migraines yourself, you may have a hard time
understanding just how severe the headaches can be," Berliner
Many people experience non-migraine headaches, he said, and
don't consider them disabling. They may pop a pill and feel better,
not missing any work. But migraines are different, he said.
Shapiro agreed. Those who haven't had a migraine often have the
attitude that those with disabling migraines are simply not
managing a problem that nearly everyone has, he said.
Migraines are also typically very unpredictable, Berliner added.
"It makes it hard for a migraine sufferer to make plans and keep
them," he said. "Some people may interpret that as flakiness or
lack of consideration."
To combat that attitude at work, Berliner said, an employee with
migraine might have a conversation with his boss, communicating
that "It's not my intention to take away your productivity."
To learn more about migraine, visit the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.