Men get migraine too: How does the condition affect their lives?
By: Rachel Baxter, Communications Officer, The Migraine Trust
Migraine is a complex brain disease that affects both men and women. However, because more women than men live with migraine – likely because changes in female hormones can trigger an attack – migraine has historically been viewed as a ‘female condition’.
While migraine affects about 24% of UK women, it also affects 12% of UK men, which may be an underestimation. This November, which marks Men’s Health Awareness Month 2021, we want to raise awareness of the fact that more than a tenth of men live with migraine and it can take a huge toll on many aspects of their lives.
We recently conducted a survey to assess the impacts of migraine on men in the UK and we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part! We surveyed over 350 men living with migraine to find out how migraine has affected their work and personal lives, their mental health, and to uncover their experiences of migraine healthcare.
Damaging quality of life
Migraine can take a huge toll on the lives of those living with it, and the results of our survey highlight just how big the impacts are. Of the men who responded:
- 75% said migraine has impacted their general health
- 82% said migraine has impacted their social life
- 47% said migraine has impacted their relationships
- 71% said migraine has impacted their family life
- 84% said migraine has impacted their work life, with 30% of respondents saying they feel they’ve been discriminated against at work due to the condition
- 76% said migraine has affected their ability to exercise
One survey respondent said:
“[Migraine] needs to be seen as a real and debilitating condition that affects both sexes not just women. Migraine also needs to stop being stigmatised and seen as an excuse to skive off work. Men get chronic migraine too and the effects can be devastating on all aspects of life.”
“I was harassed and bullied in the workplace because of my chronic migraine condition. This led to me having to leave my career prematurely.”
This is unacceptable and needs to change. If you’re struggling with migraine at work and aren’t sure how to advocate for yourself, take a look at our Help at Work toolkit.
The impact of migraine on mental health
People with migraine often find that their mental health is affected as they miss out on social events, feel under pressure at work, struggle to care for their family, or live with the constant anxiety that a migraine attack is about to strike. Of the men who took part in our survey, 73% said their migraine has affected their mental health, which is a very significant proportion.
- 71% said they have felt depressed as a result of their migraine
- 31% said they have felt fearful as a result of their migraine
- 76% said they have felt anxious or worried as a result of their migraine
- 44% said they have felt unable to cope as a result of their migraine
- 45% said they have felt isolated or lonely as a result of their migraine
- 20% said they have felt suicidal as a result of their migraine
- 12% said they do not speak to anyone about their migraine
Migraine can be a very isolating disease as it can be difficult to explain to those who don’t experience it, and there’s a common misconception that a migraine attack is nothing more than a ‘bad headache’. If you’re feeling isolated or lonely as a result of your migraine, read our blog about isolation and migraine for ways to get help. You can also contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0066 or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for support. If you’re having difficulties with your mental health you can also contact Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email@example.com.
Men’s experience of migraine healthcare
During Migraine Awareness Week in September we published a new report that highlights huge problems within the UK’s migraine healthcare system, from slow or no diagnosis to difficulties in accessing specialist treatment. Of the men who responded to our recent survey, only 16% said they had had a positive experience of migraine healthcare in the UK, while 38% said they’d had a negative experience, which is quite worrying. However, the majority of respondents (68%) said they have seen a specialist about their migraine which is good news.
When it comes to treating their migraine, 53% of men say they use over-the-counter painkillers, with 19% saying their use opioid painkillers like codeine to relieve their symptoms. This is worrying as using these drugs frequently can worsen migraine and lead to medication overuse headache, while opioids are known to be very addictive. If you use painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen on 15 or more days each month, or use codeine or triptans on 10 or more days, speak to your GP as these drugs might actually be causing an increase in your headaches.
Overall, only 33% of men who took part in the survey said they have found a treatment that consistently improves their migraine, showing that many men are struggling to manage their migraine attacks, possibly due to treatments not working or lack of access to the right care.
So, what needs to change for men living with migraine in the UK?
When asked what they think needs to change for men living with migraine, our respondents gave a range of answers, with more understanding and awareness of migraine from doctors and the wider world, better access to treatments and specialists, and more conversations around migraine in men coming up a lot. Many men also noted that they struggle with the fact that migraine is often seen as something that affects just women, as it impacts how seriously people take their condition.
“Better preventative medicine and more understanding that we are not weak,” said one person.
“To know you’re not alone especially with the rarer types of migraine and where to find help not just to put up with it because that’s what society says men should do,” said another.
It is clear that greater understanding and awareness of migraine in men is crucial to ensuring everyone with migraine is getting the right treatment and support and, ultimately, is able to live their life to the full.
Thank you so much to everyone who took part in this survey. We will use the findings to inform how we can better support men living with migraine, raise awareness and improve understanding of migraine, and, ultimately, drive change for the millions living with migraine in the UK today.