A groundbreaking study lead by William B. Young, MD, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's Headache Center, shows that patients with migraine (a combination of severe headache, nausea, light sensitivity, and other factors) suffer social stigma from their disease similar to the stigma experienced by patients with epilepsy.
The study, to be released on January 16, 2013 in the online journal PLOS ONE, is one of the first to study the social cost of this frequently debilitating and misunderstood illness. The study was co-authored by Joanna Kempner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.
Social stigma occurs when society disapproves of a person because they are different in some way—either externally, as with a birthmark, or in an unseen way, as with migraine. Stigma can hurt people's personal relationships, their work prospects, and their state of mind.
"When people treat my patients as if they are to blame because they have a severe, debilitating disease, they are contributing to the problem and making life harder for them," commented Dr. Young.
The authors conclude that the high level of stigma for chronic migraine sufferers is due to the impact of migraine on the study subjects' work lives: Chronic migraine has a bigger impact on the work of migraine patients than epilepsy has on the work of epilepsy patients. Stigma is worse because the chronic headache patients are more disabled. If you take out disability, the stigma of chronic migraine and epilepsy are about the same and the stigma of episodic migraine is less.
"I don't think people realize that it is not unusual for people with migraine to have severe headaches every day—to be so disabled that they are unable to work," said Dr. Young. "This is what causes the stigma—the fact that people with severe migraine may not be able to work."