How Chronic Migraines Affect Family Life

What the Research Shows

Chronic migraines can have a ripple effect, causing you to experience debilitating symptoms that influence your mood, ability to participate in day-to-day events, and more, all of which can affect your interactions with loved ones, particularly your partner and/or children. It's not uncommon to get stuck in a vicious cycle of irritability and resulting guilt over the effect your chronic migraines can have on those around you.

While family and friends learning more about chronic migraine can help them better understand what you're going through, digging into the research on how your condition affects others can help you get a better sense of its impact on them, too.

Impact on Partner Relationships

An analysis presented at the 60th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society in June 2018 revealed the strong impact that chronic migraine has on relationships, which is greater than that related to episodic migraine.

The analysis used data from a longitudinal web survey called the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) study and looked at the relationships of 13,064 people with both episodic (14 or fewer migraines every month) and chronic (15 or more migraines per month) migraine. Of the respondents included, 91.4 percent had episodic migraine, while 8.6 percent had chronic migraine.

Live-In Relationships

Around 78 percent of those with chronic migraine who were in live-in relationships with their partners reported that they believed they would be better partners if they didn't deal with migraines, compared to 46 percent of people with episodic migraines.

Non-Live-In Relationships

For those in relationships but not living together, nearly 44 percent of chronic migraineurs said that their migraines were causing relationship problems and/or contributing to the inability to have a closer relationship by moving in together or getting married. In episodic migraineurs, this number was only about 16 percent.

Singles

As for the 3,189 who weren't currently in relationships, 37 percent of those with chronic migraine believe that their migraines played a part in relationship problems, while 15 percent with episodic migraine said the same thing.

Almost half of the respondents with chronic migraine reported that at least one relationship had ended or experienced problems because of their migraines compared to 18 percent of those with episodic migraine.

Specific Impact of Chronic Migraine on Partner Relationships

Another analysis of data from the same CaMEO study (published in 2015) looked specifically at nearly 1,000 patients with chronic migraine. Here are some of the findings:

  • 70 percent were easily annoyed or angered by their partners when experiencing a migraine.
  • 64 percent felt guilty about how their migraines affected their partners and the same percentage also felt their migraines made their partners' lives harder.
  • 67 percent avoided sexual intimacy because of their pain.
  • Participants reported more than six days in the previous month of having less enjoyment of quality time with their partners.

Impact on Parent-Child Relationships

Migraines can take a toll on your relationship with your children as well. The 2015 CaMEO analysis that looked at people with chronic migraine showed that migraineurs' perspectives on their relationships with their children were similar to their views on their partners. For instance:

  • 61 percent reported being easily annoyed with their children during a migraine.
  • 57 percent felt guilty about the effect migraines had on their children's lives.
  • 59 percent said they'd be better parents if they didn't have migraines.

The 2018 CaMEO analysis reported that almost 10 percent of patients with chronic migraine had either put off having children or had fewer children than they desired because of their migraines. Fewer than 3 percent with episodic migraine said the same.

Adolescents

A 2018 study of parents and children on how a parent's migraines affect children aged 11 to 17 years who live with them concluded that children are most affected in the areas of general well-being and the relationship they have with the parent.

Specific findings from this study include:

  • The more frequent the parent's migraines, the more impact kids reported on their well-being and personal future.
  • The worse the parent's pain, the higher the emotional impact and burden on the child of needing to help the parent every day.
  • Nearly 58 percent of the kids surveyed said they'd appreciate some help in dealing with the effects of their parents' migraines.

Impact on Family Life

According to the 2015 CaMEO analysis, chronic migraineurs reported a reduction in family activities by nearly seven days in the previous month. Interestingly, women were significantly less likely to miss vacations or report stress with their partner between migraine attacks than men.

Other interesting findings of this analysis include:

  • 54 percent said they had reduced participation or enjoyment on a family vacation due to migraines in the last year.
  • 20 percent canceled or missed a family vacation in the last year.

The Burden of Chronic Migraine

The overall longitudinal CaMEO study confirmed the conclusions of studies that have gone before it: When compared to episodic migraine, chronic migraine is associated with higher burdens. These burdens affect your job, financial status, relationships, and emotional health, resulting in a much higher incidence of anxiety and depression.

Family life is also often affected by your inability to always be able to participate in family fun time and an increase in emotional distress for both you and your family.

According to the CaMEO study, chronic migraineurs are more likely than episodic migraineurs to:

  • Be depressed
  • Have anxiety
  • Be obese
  • Lose 3.6 times more days every month due to migraines
  • Have a lower income
  • Have less education

A Word From Verywell

This research carries the poignant message that migraines are not just simply headaches, especially when they're chronic. Migraine is a complex and debilitating medical condition that carries with it a physical and emotional burden, affecting not only you but your family as well. You may feel guilty, anxious, sad, or angry about the way your migraines affect your life. Your loved ones might, too.

Because of these effects, it's important to develop healthy coping strategies. For instance, if you're not on preventative medication for your migraines, you may want to talk to your doctor about starting on one, as well as work on pinpointing your migraine triggers so you can avoid them. Seeing a therapist for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), whether by yourself or with your family, may also help you learn to cope in a more positive way.

You might also benefit from talking with loved ones about ways they can help you feel your best.

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