Chapter 4, Episode 5: Migraine and Stigma

This content has been medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Shapiro.

What is stigma? How does it affect people with migraine disease? And what can you do to combat it?

Stigma occurs when a person experiences severe disapproval or rejection because of a particular trait, characteristic or disease they have that makes them different from the “norm.”1,2 

Migraine is an invisible disease, meaning its symptoms are not visible to others. It cannot be diagnosed or validated by a blood test or MRI scan.1 People may not believe how severe a person’s symptoms are or if they are even experiencing them at all. 

Researchers now know that migraine is a complex, neurological disease with many genetic and biological factors involved. But for generations, many societies assumed that people with migraine must be “weak” or “fragile” …or even worse, dishonest or lazy when complaining about a “headache.”

We know that migraine is much more than a headache. Migraine attacks can cause a wide range of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, light and/or sound sensitivity, dizziness, brain fog, mood changes, ringing in the ears, and more.

Studies show that about one in three people with migraine, and nearly one in two with chronic migraine, experience the effects of stigma frequently.3,4 

Because of people’s lack of understanding about the severity and impact of migraine, stigma can result in…..

  • A lack of family or social support
  • Difficulty at school or work
  • A delay or misdiagnosis from healthcare providers

Migraine occurs on a spectrum with some people affected more severely than others. Some people may even experience stigma from others living with the disease. They may think a person is being “dramatic” or “faking it” because their migraine attacks do not have the same severity, frequency or impact on their life.

People with migraine may also experience “internalized stigma”. This occurs when they blame themselves when they have attacks or can’t participate in daily life.2 

So how can you combat migraine stigma?

  • You can change the way you talk about migraine disease. Instead of saying “I get migraines”, say “I experience migraine attacks or I live with migraine disease.”5 
  • Educate yourself. There are websites, videos, podcasts, articles, fact sheets, and other resources from our organization and many others to help you learn the latest and most accurate information about migraine disease.
  • Participate in advocacy events such as Shades for Migraine.
  • Advocate for yourself and talk to people who stigmatize migraine. This takes courage but by explaining what you experience it may change the person’s beliefs.1,2
  • If you don’t live with migraine, but care about someone who does, please remember to always believe them and offer your support when possible.

Migraine is the second most disabling condition in the world yet people continue to experience stigma.6 With compassion and education, we can work together to reduce migraine stigma.

For more information, visit

This video is sponsored in part by Lundbeck.

  1. How Stigma Worsens Migraine Burden – Dr. Robert Shapiro’s interview at the 2023 Migraine World Summit:

*The contents of this video are intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. AMD does not recommend or endorse any treatment, products, or procedures mentioned. Reliance on any information provided by this content is solely at your own risk.