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Stigma High for Migraine

The invisibility of headaches increases the stigma surrounding them, especially for people with chronic migraines, according to a team of researchers from the Jefferson Headache Clinic at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. In fact, chronic migraine sufferers experience more stigma than people with stroke, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.

“Many diseases like HIV, mental illness and cancer can be highly stigmatizing, resulting in depression, anxiety, decreased quality of life and disruption of social relationships,” said Jung E. Park, MD. “Our goal was to understand how stigma attaches to migraine.”

The team found that co-workers, employers and even family members can be skeptical about migraines. “You can’t see it, so people don’t understand the condition,” said Dr. Park.

The study used the Stigma Scale for Chronic Illness, a recently developed tool that assesses stigma in persons with neurological disorders and compares rates across disorders by measuring such factors as how often people feel misunderstood, criticized or ostracized for their illness.

Many migraineurs experience “separation, exclusion and rejection in their relationships with family and friends when their condition prevented them from fully engaging in family and social events,” according to Dr. Park and her colleagues. As the feelings of stigma go up, the more people’s quality of life suffers as measured by absence from work, family events and social life.

The team was surprised by the degree of stigmatization, said Dr. Park, who presented the findings at the American Headache Society meeting.

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