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More Than a Headache: The Social Impact of Migraines

Under: Migraine & Headache, MigreLief

Migraine is a common yet exceedingly debilitating neurological disease. According to the Global Burden Disease Study, migraines are among the top five most disabling conditions in the world, costing nations and individuals billions of dollars every year in productivity loss and healthcare expenditures.

But the burden of migraines is not just economic. More than 90 percent of migraineurs report being unable to work or function normally during an attack, which can last anywhere between 4 hours to 3 days. Several population-based studies have tried to estimate how many days of work are missed on average due to migraines.

In a 2018 study measuring the impact of migraines on work productivity among 1,500 adults in Switzerland, individuals reported missing an average of 31.91 workdays each year from migraines alone. Another report analyzing the socioeconomic burden of migraines in Europe estimated that frequent migraine sufferers miss up to 46 workdays per year. According to another study published by the American Journal of Managed Care, Americans lose an average of 38 workdays every year due to migraines.

In addition to absenteeism (missing work or school) and decreased productivity, many people with migraines have to live with the stigma of having an “invisible” illness. The sad reality for individuals who have “unseen” disabilities like fibromyalgia or migraines is that they are often discriminated against or considered lazy or unreliable.

Given the excruciating nature of migraines, people suffering from this condition often find themselves having to abruptly cancel plans, walk away from family activities, or avoid events or places that might trigger an attack. In a survey conducted by the Migraine Trust, 90 percent of respondents reported feeling isolated because of migraines, and 34 percent said that they miss out on social or family events every week due to headaches.

Migraines are not a one-off event. In fact, many migraineurs find themselves adapting their life, schedule, and aspirations around their migraines, knowing all too well that while they might be pain-free or have fewer attacks for months, at the end of the day migraines are completely unpredictable.


Link between migraines and depression

Living with the constant worry that a migraine can hit at any minute also takes a toll on mental health. Chronic migraineurs are five times more likely to develop depression, and 20 percent of people with episodic migraines are thought to have depression as well.

However, the link between migraines and depression or anxiety is not fully understood yet. Some people develop anxiety or depression as a consequence of migraines. In contrast, others with a prior history of mental health problems develop migraines after having depression or anxiety for some time.

An essential part of living with migraines or other pain conditions is learning a variety of techniques to cope with both the physical and the emotional aspects of the disease. Beyond traditional therapies like abortive medications and medical interventions, it is important to reflect on the impact that migraines are having in your life and seek help if you feel like your pain is getting the best out of you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), meditation, and mindfulness can help you reshape your relationship with pain and to tackle your migraines with a different mindset.

Are migraines negatively impacting your quality of life? Click HERE to take the Migraine Disability Assessment Test (MIDAS) to evaluate the extent to which migraines are interfering with your day to day life, and talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about your options.