Breaking The Migraine Stigma: 5 Things You Need To Know

By Marisa Salice, Association of Migraine Disorders (AMD)

You’ve probably heard people talk about migraine stigma, but what does that really mean? And why does it matter? Understanding migraine stigma and the impact it can have is the first step in changing how others view the disease. Combatting this stigma can remove an extra layer of burden for people living with migraine who are already dealing with physical pain and other debilitating symptoms.

1. Understanding stigma and its impact

Stigma, in a nutshell, is when someone faces harsh judgment, rejection, or discrimination because of something about them that society deems “different” or “abnormal.” 

When it comes to migraine, it’s more than just being perceived as different; it’s about facing misunderstanding, disbelief, and unfair judgment.

While migraine and its symptoms can affect people in many ways, migraine stigma can have a drastic impact too. Results from the OVERCOME study, recently published in Neurology, show that migraine-related stigma is linked with “increased disability, greater burden between attacks, and reduced quality of life.” 

Learn about migraine and stigma with The Association of Migraine Disorders’ Migraine Stigma Explainer Video.

2. Migraine can be invisible

Since migraine symptoms aren’t always visible, some folks don’t understand migraine’s true impact. Migraine symptoms severely disrupt a person’s ability to function. Because people can’t actually see what’s causing the disability, it can play into the stereotype that migraine is an excuse to get out of responsibility. Some might think people with migraine are exaggerating or making it up.

3. Stigma is more common than you think.

About one in three people with migraine, and nearly one in two with chronic migraine, deal with stigma regularly. Stigma can greatly impact a person’s life. Stigma can be found anywhere from family and social circles to school and work. And let’s not forget the healthcare world – where a misdiagnosis or delay in treatment can make an already tough situation even tougher.

If external stigma wasn’t enough to deal with, people with migraine face internal stigma too. Some people with migraine may blame themselves for an attack. This could lead to feelings of guilt or shame when missing out on deadlines or commitments.

4. How you can combat stigma 

Ready to combat migraine stigma? Here are a few easy ways to start:

  • Consider adapting your vocabulary: Instead of saying “I get migraines,” try “I experience migraine attacks” or “I live with migraine disease.” It’s a small change that can make a BIG difference in helping others understand that migraine attacks are more than simply a bad headache, they are part of a disease that typically includes several debilitating symptoms. It emphasizes the severity and legitimacy of the disease. Learn more about these language suggestions in the CHAMP Headache & Migraine Disease Language and Image Guide
  • Educate yourself: Knowledge is power! Dive into the wealth of resources to learn more about migraine disease. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to challenge misconceptions. A perfect place to start is the Association of Migraine Disorders’ quick and educational explainer video series that breaks down migraine types, treatments, pathophysiology, and other headache types. Don’t forget to check out our SFM Partner page to explore further migraine resources. 
  • Speak up: Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and others. If someone is spouting off migraine myths, kindly set the record straight. You never know – you might just change their perspective on what it means to live with migraine. 
  • Show Support: If you’ve got a loved one living with migraine, join their support team. Believe them, support them, and lend a helping hand whenever you can.

5. We are stronger together

Migraine might be the second-leading cause of disability in the world, but together, we can dismantle the stigma surrounding the disease. By spreading compassion and understanding, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. Join us on June 21 for Shades For Migraine Day by wearing your favorite sunglasses and spreading the word about migraine disease. There are many ways to participate in our movement!


Migraine-Related Stigma and Its Relationship to Disability, Interictal Burden, and Quality of Life: Results of the OVERCOME (US) Study. Neurology: February 13, 2024 issue 102 (3)

1 in 7 people live with migraine disease. That means nearly everyone knows someone living with migraine. Please join us in raising awareness and showing your support! Participation is easy, post a photo wearing sunglasses to social media on June 21st with #ShadesForMigraine.

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