Why We’re Now Saying Migraine Is “More Than a Headache”

June 7, 2024
June 6, 2024
Why We’re Now Saying Migraine Is “More Than a Headache”

We are making a conscious shift in language to reflect better the experiences of people living with headache disorders. Instead of using the phrase "just a headache," we will embrace more accurate and empathetic terms based on guidance from CHAMP (Coalition For Headache And Migraine Patients).

CHAMP (Coalition For Headache And Migraine Patients) advocates against the phrase "just a headache" because it trivializes the experience of individuals living with various primary headache disorders such as cluster headache and trigeminal neuralgia.

Here's why this language is harmful:

  1. Minimizes the impact: Headache disorders, whether migraine, cluster headache, thunderclap headache, or trigeminal neuralgia, can be incredibly debilitating. They're not minor inconveniences, but often significantly impact quality of life, causing missed work/school days, social isolation, and emotional distress.

    Cluster headache is known for being the most painful experience a human can endure, more than pancreatitis, more than a gunshot wound, more than kidney stones, or childbirth. Headache is not something to make light of.

    Using the phrase "just a headache" disregards the severity and chronic nature of these conditions, as well as their need for advocacy.
  2. Discourages seeking help: When headaches are dismissed as insignificant, individuals may be less likely to seek medical attention, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment. Early intervention is crucial for managing these disorders effectively and preventing long-term complications.
  3. Perpetuates misconceptions: The phrase "just a headache" reinforces the misconception that headaches are always benign and easily managed. This can lead to stigma, misunderstandings, and lack of empathy from others, further isolating individuals who are struggling with these conditions.
  4. Overlooks other headache disorders: By focusing solely on migraine, the phrase "just a headache" overlooks other primary headache disorders with distinct characteristics and treatment approaches. This can lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, hindering effective management of these conditions.

By making this shift in language, we hope to:

  • Acknowledge the severity and chronic nature of headache disorders, recognizing their significant impact on quality of life.
  • Encourage individuals to seek timely medical attention and receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
  • Challenge misconceptions and stigma associated with headache disorders, fostering understanding and empathy.
  • Recognize the diversity of primary headache disorders, each with unique characteristics and treatment needs.

By shifting our language, we can continue to challenge the myth that headache disorders are harmless or mild.

Although most primary headache disorders do not appear on traditional films and lab tests, they are incredibly disabling and deeply impact one’s quality of life. They should be taken seriously, by society, by policies, laws, and organizational practices, by friends and family members, as well as the person living with the condition. Increased advocacy and awareness encorages better policies, support and accommodations, more research, and better medical interventions, all things that headache patients desperately need and deserve.

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Shruti Shivaramakrishnan
Neura Health Content & Social Media Manager
About the Author
Shruti is a chronic and mental illness advocate, sharing relatable insights as ChronicallyMeh on Instagram and her blog. With a global perspective, she candidly discusses the challenges of invisible illness, tackling topics like stigma, career breaks, and parenting with migraine. Shruti combines her empathy-driven marketing expertise with her passion for storytelling to help others feel less alone.

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