THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer from
frequent migraines are stigmatized in much the same way as people
with epilepsy are, new research suggests.
"This study is providing evidence for what we all sort of knew was the case," said Dr. Noah Rosen, director of the Headache Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in Manhasset, N.Y. He was not involved in the research.
Not only are migraine patients stigmatized, but so is the
condition itself in terms of getting research money, Rosen noted.
"It's not getting the recognition it really should, given the
prevalence and disability associated with it," he said.
Migraine pain and symptoms affect 29.5 million Americans,
according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Rosen believes that because migraine -- which causes a
combination of severe headache, nausea, light sensitivity and other
factors -- affects patients' work and social lives, the people
around them stigmatize them as unreliable.
"Migraine is a disease morbidity, not mortality," Rosen said. "That's why it doesn't get the respect that it really requires."
Moreover, people who can't feel the pain a migraine sufferer is
going through can't appreciate how debilitating it can be, Rosen
Rosen believes that family and coworkers of people with migraine
need to be educated about the condition. In addition, workplaces
may need to be altered to remove things that can trigger a
migraine, he suggested.
These triggers include stress and poor environmental conditions,
which can be changed to reduce the likelihood of setting off a
migraine, Rosen explained.
In a statement from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's
Headache Center in Philadelphia, study author and neurologist Dr.
William Young, said: "I don't think people realize that it is not
unusual for people with migraine to have severe headaches every day
-- to be so disabled that they are unable to work. This is what
causes the stigma -- the fact that people with severe migraine may
not be able to work."
And, Young added, "When people treat my patients as if they are
to blame because they have a severe, debilitating disease, they are
contributing to the problem and making life harder for them."
The study, by Young and colleagues at Thomas Jefferson and
Rutgers University, was published online Jan. 16 in the journal
To see how people with migraine were treated, Young's team
collected data on 123 people with episodic migraine (defined as 14
or fewer headaches per month), 123 people with chronic migraine
(more than 14 headaches per month with eight meeting the criteria
for migraine), and 62 people with epilepsy. To evaluate these
participants, the researchers used a so-called stigma scale for
Epilepsy patients were chosen for comparison because their
condition, which can cause seizures, is known to carry a stigma for
many people, the researchers noted.
The investigators found that people with chronic migraine scored
significantly higher on the stigma score (54) than those with
episodic migraine (42) and even higher than those with epilepsy
Adjusting the scores for other factors, Young and colleagues
found the score roughly equal for people with epilepsy and chronic
migraine, while the scores for those with episodic migraine were
People with chronic migraine tended to miss more days of work
than those with epilepsy. Many with migraine need bed rest during
the day of the migraine, which can occurr several times during the
month, the researchers noted.
As Rosen pointed out, migraine is often considered "just a
headache," not a major health problem.
In Young's clinic, however, 25 percent of migraine patients
cannot hold a job because of the disease and many more suffer
severe headaches almost every day, he pointed out. Severe
depression and even suicidal thoughts are common among patients
with chronic migraine, he added.
For more on migraine, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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