Chronic migraine headaches take a toll on family relationships

Chronic migraine headaches take a toll on family relationshipsChronic migraines obviously affect the sufferer, but a new survey shows that they can be harmful for the entire family – highlighting the importance of prevention and treatment.

Researchers at Montefiore Headache Center in New York conducted an extensive survey of people with chronic migraines to look at the greater impact of the condition beyond the individual’s immediate experience of pain and suffering. The big picture, as the survey found, can be bleak.


Most of the survey participants reported that their condition affects their activities, family relationships, and sexual intimacy.

I’m not surprised. The physical pain can also make for an emotional guilt-trip that’s hard to shake.

Aside from dealing with the disabling pain, sufferers often feel sad, guilty, or worried about how their loved ones are affected by their headaches, Dawn Buse, director of behavioral medicine at Montefiore, explained.

“I hear firsthand about the tragic effect that chronic migraine has on every aspect of people’s lives, including work and home life,” Buse said.

What you should know about chronic migraine

Most people get headaches from time to time, but migraines are a different beast – a migraine headache is defined as a recurrent throbbing or pulsing headache in one area of the head that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, disturbed vision, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound, according to the Mayo Clinic. Migraines can last for hours or days. For some people, migraines are completely debilitating.

Chronic migraine is defined as having a migraine headache for 15 or more days a month, Buse said, and the condition affects three to seven million of the 38 million people in the United States who get migraines.

To survey the effects of chronic migraine, Buse and the research team worked with survey company Research Now to question nearly 1,000 people – about 80 percent women – who fit the criteria for chronic migraine. The web-based survey was completed by the migraine sufferers as well as their spouses and children.

Chronic migraine and its toll on family relationships

Nearly three-quarters of the chronic migraine sufferers surveyed said they would be better spouses without the condition and almost 60 percent thought they would be better parents if migraines weren’t part of the equation.

They reported missing family activities because of migraines, as well as quality time with spouses – almost seven days per month on the whole. They also said that migraines affected their moods and, therefore, their interactions with family, making them more irritable and easily angered.

The study was presented at the American Headache Society, confirming the significant impact migraines have on daily family life and dynamics. Survey research was funded by Allergan – the maker of Botox, which is used for migraine treatment (as well as cosmetic enhancements).

The research shines some light on how migraines can have wide-ranging effects for more than just those suffering from the headaches.

“It’s very important to bring this data to light,” Buse said, “to show that chronic migraines are burdensome and difficult, not only for the people who live with it but also for the people they love.”

Though there is no cure, proper prevention and treatment of migraines could offer some relief for chronic sufferers. Pain-relief medications like Aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken during an attack to reduce pain, the Mayo Clinic suggests, and prescribed prevention medications are available to help reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks.

Some people also find relief with supplements and lifestyle treatments like muscle-relaxing exercises, quality sleep, and general rest and relaxation.

Related Reading:

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