Migraine sufferers experience stigma in addition to crushing headaches, study finds

    Two percent of Americans suffer chronic, severe migraines. This is not an ordinary headache, it’s a neurological disorder — recurrent, debilitating headaches that are typically accompanied by nausea, vision problems, and sensitivity to loud noises.As if that’s not bad enough, a new study finds that migraine sufferers are often looked down upon by others.

    Neurologist William Young treats migraine sufferers at Jefferson University Hospital, and tries to help them cope with the disabling symptoms of these episodes, which can last several days. He found that the physical pain is just one aspect of the illness. Stigma creates another level of suffering for his patients. They tell him that their families and employers believe they should be able to control these episodes.

    “My patients tell me that they get that from their family members and their employers, and that’s very damaging to my patients,” Young said.

    It’s a false expectation, he added, that has a negative effect on their overall well-being. “If you are told continuously that it’s your fault that you are the way you are, and you have an unacceptable, disgraceful condition, your physical and mental health are going to suffer.”

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    Young found that chronic migraine sufferers report very high rates of stigma both at home and at work.

    New Jersey lawyer Megan Altman has dealt with migraines most of her life. They made it impossible for her to work in big competitive law firms. She said she always felt that people did not believe her.

    “I would hear a lot that I was overly dramatic and very sensitive,” she recalled. “I heard from doctors, ‘oh you are very sensitive, you have a very sensitive system.’ And I always took that as a put down, that I’m not tough and not up to making it in this world.”

    Young said he hopes his study will bring more awareness to the stigma migraine sufferers experience. Though the condition is common, he said, few doctors study it or specialize in treating it.

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