People with Migraine Endure Greater Social Stigma than those with Asthma; same as those with Epilepsy or Panic Disorder

BOSTON, June 26, 2013 – Individuals who suffer with migraine also suffer the stigma of having the disorder, often coming from friends, family, and co-workers, according to a new study presented at the International Headache Congress meeting here this week.

Researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of British Columbia surveyed 765 Americans using the crowdsourcing website Mechanical Turk to assess attitudes towards several medical conditions including migraine, epilepsy, panic disorder, and asthma.  Using the Attitudes towards Mental Illness Questionnaire (AMIQ), a well-validated tool to assess stigma, they found that the stigma against individuals with migraine is of equal magnitude to the stigma against individuals with epilepsy or panic disorder, and significantly higher than that against individuals with asthma.

“As if the pain of migraine weren’t disabling enough, it also comes with a stigma that often renders it invisible at home and in the workplace,” said Robert E. Shapiro, MD, PhD, professor of neurological sciences at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, who is lead author of the paper. “Many people believe that the mild and tolerable headaches they experience are the same as migraine, and tend to discount the disabling impact that migraine has on the quality of life of those who have these attacks.”

The study, funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was also conducted by Peter B. Reiner, PhD, of University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

The International Headache Congress, hosted this year by the American Headache Society, draws about 1,000 headache and migraine researchers and treatment specialists from around the world to hear the latest scientific and clinical information.  This year’s theme – “Revolutionizing Headache Care Through Science” – is a four-day program of teaching and scientific presentations.


Some 36 million Americans suffer from migraine, more than have asthma or diabetes combined.  More than six million Americans suffer from chronic migraine, a highly disabling neurological disorder. Migraine can be extremely disabling and costly, accounting for more than $20 billion in direct (e.g. doctor visits, medications) and indirect (e.g. missed work, lost productivity) expenses each year in the United States.


IHS, founded in the United Kingdom in 1982, is the world’s leading membership organization for those with a professional commitment to helping people affected by headache. The purpose is to advance headache science, education, and management, and promote headache awareness worldwide. IHS publishes the international journal Cephalalgia.


The American Headache Society (AHS) is a professional society of health care providers dedicated to the study and treatment of headache and face pain. The Society’s objectives are to promote the exchange of information and ideas concerning the causes and treatments of headache and related painful disorders. Educating physicians, health professionals and the public and encouraging scientific research are the primary functions of this organization. AHS activities include an annual scientific meeting, a comprehensive headache symposium, regional symposia for neurologists and family practice physicians, publication of the journal Headache and sponsorship of the AHS Committee for Headache Education (ACHE).  www.americanheadachesociety.org

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