Do you ever feel judged for having migraine? Like everyone in your life believes that if you were just a little healthier you would be cured and feel better? Or maybe it’s you who is hard on yourself when a migraine attack strikes. Have you ever blamed yourself for an attack and thought …
“If only I wouldn’t have eaten that piece of chocolate today …”
“Why did I go to bed so late last night??”
“I shouldn’t have waited so long to eat.”
The truth is that not taking care of ourselves or being healthier is NOT the reason we have migraine, and our triggers don’t CAUSE our disease. There are many people in the world who don’t take care of themselves at all, or who consume various things that would be instant triggers for us, and yet… they don’t suffer a migraine attack. This unfortunate stigma that those with migraine often face can come with a price, as many people are afraid to seek the professional medical treatment they need for fear that they will be brushed off and dismissed for not taking better care of themselves.
This thinking is untrue and unfair in so many ways. You did NOT cause your migraine and an attack is NOT your fault!
So What Really Causes Migraine?
Migraine is a complex neurological disease, and the exact cause is unknown. However, there are several factors that may put someone at greater risk. These include:
Research shows that migraine runs in families. According to MigraineTrust.org, it is estimated that up to 60% of the reason people get migraine is because of their genes. These genes make people more sensitive to changes in their environment such as lifestyle factors and triggers that can bring on an attack. Up to 80% of people who get migraine headaches have a first-degree relative with the disease. If one parent has a history of migraine, their child has a 50% chance of having them—and if both parents have a history, the risk jumps to 75%.
Migraine is reported to be two-to-three times more prevalent in women than in men. Many women experience migraine during their child-bearing years, which researchers say suggests fluctuating sex hormones—especially estrogen and progesterone—likely play a role, though men and people of all ages may also have migraine disease.
Migraine is comorbid with many other health conditions, many of which can impact the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. These include various autoimmune disorders, celiac disease, mental health disorders, GI disorders, sleep disorders among many others. Comorbid conditions further complicate migraine treatment and can make it very difficult to manage.
The Truth About Healthy Lifestyle Habits
While it is untrue that not taking care of yourself causes migraine, there is evidence that healthy lifestyle habits can improve the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. Healthy lifestyle habits such as maintaining a well-balanced diet, prioritizing sleep, keeping hydrated, getting regular exercise and managing stress CAN help you feel better and manage life with migraine. A solid migraine treatment plan will likely include a mix of all of these factors. But, it’s important to remember that even when we do all the right things to take care of ourselves, we still have migraine disease.
Managing the Stigma
Doing everything right will NOT prevent us from ever having a migraine attack again. Here are some ways to find acceptance and cope with the stigma that so often comes along for the migraine ride.
- Be kind to yourself! Let go of guilt and shame and remind yourself you did not cause this! Managing your stress and practicing consistent self -care and -love can go a long way.
- Seek connection with people who understand and “get it,” like those in the Migraine Meanderings support groups. Don’t be afraid to set and maintain boundaries with those who are likely to say negative things about your migraine and overall health. If someone in your life consistently says rude or invalidating things about your health, you can and should take space.
- And that goes for doctors too. Remember that not all doctors are a great fit and if you feel as though you leave every appointment on the defensive and feeling like you’ve failed, it may be time to find a new doctor. Read more about this important topic here and find a certified headache specialist as they will know the most about migraine and other headache disorders and will be less likely to pass judgment about your health.
- Consider seeking professional support. Talking to a licensed therapist who is non-biased and there just for YOU can be really helpful and validating.
In short, migraine is NOT your fault, but there are some things you can do to feel better. If you are experiencing four or more migraine attacks per month, or if your attacks are impacting your quality of life, don’t wait to talk to your doctor and develop a treatment plan that works best for you. Taking steps now can prevent your migraine from becoming chronic and improve your overall quality of life.
Let Us Know! Do you ever blame yourself for a migraine attack? Or do you feel you face stigma about your overall health because you have migraine? How do you handle tough conversations with friends, family and/or healthcare professionals when this topic comes up?