Stop Saying Stuff Like This to Migraine Sufferers

Laura Schocker, Executive Editor of the Healthy Living section of HuffPo brings us this awesome list of things that make migraine suffers cringe when they hear them:

 

“I get headaches, too.”

Almost everyone has had a headache. And while a migraine is a type of headache, it’s an entirely different beast than your typical tension-type pain. Migraine is a neurological disease and attacks can last four to 72 hours with sometimes severe pain that can be accompanied by other uncomfortable symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and light and noise sensitivity. “It’s long and it’s really debilitating and so it’s different than a tension-type headache,” Buse says.

 

“Move around, you’ll feel better.” (Or, “Do something to take your mind off of it.”)

The “perverse nature” of migraine, Rosenberg says, is that while distraction can help ease other types of pain (think about a stubbed toe that you don’t notice is throbbing until the end of the day when you’re not busy), it doesn’t work for migraine. “Physical activity tends to make it worse,” he says.

 

“You should stop _________.”

Eating chocolate. Drinking alcohol. Eating gluten. You can fill in the blank with any number of well-meaning suggestions. “Everybody has their own beliefs as to what triggers an individual migraine but it’s really bad luck more than anything,” Rosenberg says. “It’s a combination of genetics and other factors that are largely out of our control.”

 

“You don’t look sick.”

Migraine is an “invisible illness,” according to Buse, which can be confusing when someone looks the same during an attack as she does without one. “You can give a compliment and say you look nice today, but it’s important not to negate that someone’s illness is real,” Buse says.

 

“Drink some water.”

While dehydration might trigger a migraine, it’s not going to help once a headache is in progress. “Drinking water is not going to get rid of a migraine that you already have,” Rosenberg says. What’s worse, he adds, you might be too nauseated to drink

 

“It’s all in your head.”

Well, migraine attacks are literally in the head — but they’re not a figment of the imagination. “This is a biologic condition that involves the brain and brain structure and neurotransmitters and is quite complex,” Buse says. “When people say these things, it’s just dismissive and trivializing. It makes people feel unheard and not validated and not respected.”

 

“At least they can’t kill you.”

While Rosenberg points out that he does see conditions in his practice that are “worse,” migraine can cause people to lose jobs, drop out of school, lose income and even lose spouses. “I’ve seen divorces caused by headaches,” he says. “They affect the entire family.”

 

“I wish I could stay at home all the time like you do.”

“This makes someone really feel misunderstood … Living with a chronic illness or invisible illness or pain condition like migraine is really tough and not a fun or relaxing or pleasant way to live at all. So when someone says that it just makes the person feel very unheard, unrecognized, misunderstood,” Buse says. “People who have migraine and are missing out on life dearly wish that they could be out experiencing life, spending time with loved ones and working. I hear this all the time in practice.”

 

“You just can’t handle stress well.”

The old-fashioned (thoroughly debunked) stigma of a “migraine personality” suggested that it mostly afflicted neurotic women or high-achieving men, according to Rosenberg. “There’s still this idea that there’s this sign of weakness or weakness of will,” he says. “Yes stress can set off many things, but [migraine has] nothing to do with your ability to handle it.”

 

“Isn’t that a female thing?”

While it’s true that migraine is three times more common in women than men, 6 percent of men have the condition.

 

While people may mean well when they make these comments, as the author points out, it still must be galling for someone with migraine to hear them. So, next time you’re talking to your friend/family member with migraine, don’t be that guy (or girl)!

 

A redacted portion of the article has been posted here: go to 13 Things Not To Say To Someone With A Migraine to read the entire article.

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