Why Men Ignore Migraines and Why They Shouldn’t

Anyone can suffer from migraines, but men are less likely to seek help. Unfortunately, migraine sufferers are at higher risk for suffering from other problems than the general population. The perception that a migraine is “just a headache” does a grave disservice to all sufferers but negatively impacts men most of all.

Why do men ignore migraines?

The Stigma of Migraines

Migraine sufferers face two stigmas that significantly influence men.

The first is the feminization of migraines. While it’s true that a higher percentage of women suffer from migraines than men, that doesn’t mean men do not experience the pain equally. Both men and women suffer from episodic or chronic migraines that cause them to miss work or become isolated.

The second stigma is that of mental illness. Migraines are not a mental illness, they are a neurological disease. However, migraine sufferers are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder than the general population.

Many men are conditioned to reject anything that causes them to appear unmasculine, including admitting to having an illness that has been labeled a “woman’s disease.” Also, the stigma of mental illness, which may be implied to include migraines, keeps men from seeking help because they don’t want to be considered “crazy.”

Why should men seek help?

The True Cost of Migraines

The highest cost of migraines is the threat of suicide. Migraine sufferers may turn to suicide to escape the constant, debilitating pain. Americans with migraines that include aura (visual disturbances) are three times more likely to attempt suicide than migraineurs (migraine sufferer) without aura, whether major depression is present or not.

Death or hospitalization due to medication overdose is another cost of migraines. Opioids have been used often to treat migraine pain; 7% to 10% of sufferers have been prescribed or use opioids. An estimated 19% of those are dependent on the drug.

Lost days of work, loss of functionality and the disruption of personal relationships add to the high cost of migraines.

A Migraine, Like Misery, Loves Company

Besides being associated with depression and anxiety, suffering from episodic or chronic migraines increases your chances of developing other illnesses, including stroke, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain (other than headache pain), and other medical conditions.

Also, because very little time is given to diagnosing and treating migraine in medical education, physicians do not always consider migraine as a diagnosis. Furthermore, healthcare workers are just as prone to consider migraines a woman’s disorder as anyone else. Therefore, a man presenting with migraine symptoms may come away undiagnosed.

Migraine Myth Busting

The biggest myth is that a migraine is “just a headache.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Severe migraines can disable anyone, keeping them from functioning normally.

Other myths are just as damaging to migraineurs. Here is the truth.

  • Migraines are more prevalent worldwide than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined.
  • Lifestyle choices do not cause or impact migraine attacks.
  • Eating chocolate or cheese does not cause migraines.
  • Migraines are a neurological illness, but they do not damage your brain.

Unfortunately, it is also true that there is no diagnostic test to diagnose migraines easily, nor is a cure apparent soon. That does not mean there is no effective treatment to reduce the severity of an attack.

Many migraine sufferers feel that others do not believe or understand the true pain and disability associated with migraines. They fear being seen as faking or exaggerating. They want to avoid being perceived as lazy or unreliable.

Migraineurs also suffer from self-stigmatizing thoughts and feelings of embarrassment or guilt. They think they aren’t worthy of respect, special accommodation, or affection.

The result is low self-esteem and reduced quality of life.

Why Men Should Not Ignore Migraines

Too much is at risk for men to ignore migraines, to buy into the idea that they are admitting weakness when succumbing to a migraine attack.

Suffering from migraines without seeking assistance is setting yourself up for a host of other serious consequences that would steal more from your life than the days lost to head pain. Those who have never suffered a migraine and are unable to offer empathy should not be given the power to keep you from seeking medical advice.

Migraine is a serious illness that can open the door to other physical and mental health problems. Men who suffer from migraines must shed the fear of other people’s perceptions and seek medical assistance.

Having migraines doesn’t make you less of a man. Neither does asking for help.

Dr. Mark Khorsandi, D.O, founded the Texas-based Migraine Relief Center. They provide surgical treatments that reduce and eliminate pain for migraine sufferers.

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