How Chronic Migraines Affect Your Family Life

Woman with headache and playing kid in the background
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Does having a migraine most days of the week affect your interactions with your spouse and/or your children? Do you feel ashamed by these negative interactions, creating a vicious cycle of irritability and guilt?

You are not alone. A study presented at the 56th annual American Headache Society in June 2014 revealed the strong impact that chronic migraine has on family life.

How Does Chronic Migraine Affect My Family?

The study titled, "The Family Burden of Chronic Migraine to the Migraineur: ​Results of the CaMEO (Chronic Migraine Epidemiology & Outcomes) Study" surveyed nearly 1000 people with chronic migraine on the web.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported that they believed they would be better spouses if they did not suffer from chronic migraines, and a little over half believed they would be better parents. This is quite astonishing and hints at the true emotional impact chronic migraine has on an individual's perceptions regarding how their migraines affect their role in the family unit.

Here are some other interesting findings:

  • 64 percent felt guilty about being easily annoyed or angered by their partners (due to a migraine)
  • 67 percent avoided sexual intimacy
  • 61 percent reported being easily annoyed with their children (during a migraine)
  • 54 percent reported they had reduced participation or enjoyment on a family vacation due to a migraine in the last year
  • 20 percent canceled or missed a family vacation

In addition, the study found that chronic migraine reduced family activities by nearly seven days a month and quality time with their partner by over six days a month. Interestingly, women were significantly less likely to miss vacations or report stress with their spouse between migraine attacks than men. The authors of the study suggest that chronic migraine attacks may be "qualitatively different" between the sexes. Or, women may feel more compelled to attend events, despite their suffering—it is hard to explain this difference.

More on the Burden of Chronic Migraines

When compared to episodic migraines, chronic migraine is associated with more burdens (as you can imagine). These burdens encompass a person's  job, relationships, and emotional health, especially anxiety and depression. Family life too is affected by a reduction in family-fun time and an increase in emotional distress -- for both parties (let's face it, it's no fun seeing someone you love in pain and missing out on life.) Sometimes, the caregiving or nurturing role can be more distressing because you want to ease your loved one's pain so badly. This strong desire is normal and can be frustrating.

A Word from Verywell

This study carries the poignant message that migraines are not just simply headaches. Migraine is a complex and debilitating medical condition that carries with it a physical and emotional burden, affecting not only the sufferer but her family as well. These findings also suggest that developing healthy coping strategies should not only be a goal of the migraineur but also of her family.

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Article Sources
  • Adams, A.M., et al. (2015). The impact of chronic migraine: The Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) Study methods and baseline results. Cephalalgia, 35(7):563-78.
  • Buse D, Dodick D, Manack A. Perception of the Family Burden of Chronic Migraine: Results of the CaMEO (Chronic Migraine Epidemiology & Outcomes) Study (P5.039). Neurology. 2016 Sep;56(8):1368-9.