Don’t call me that! Words that irritate
By Prof. Joanna Kempner—November 27, 2011

People with migraine always talk about the kinds of things that they hate hearing from other people. Some typical examples include: would you like some Tylenol? Did you drink enough water? You’re probably just stressed!

Words that irritateIt would be great if we could get people to be more sensitive about the sorts of things that they say. But are there also specific words that we wish people stopped using to describe us?

Dr. William Young at the Jefferson Headache Clinic posed this question to a panel of 15 experts, academics, advocates, and patients. (I was a member of this panel.) I’ve written a couple of posts now about our discussions. In this final post, I want to focus on the question: what words should never be used to describe people with migraine?

The panel came up with some different words and phrases that we thought were particularly problematic.

The first set of words includes “sufferer” and “migraine victim.” The reasoning here was that this language makes people with migraine seem weak, when we know that they are anything but.

The next set of words includes “borderline”; “migraine personality” or anything else with a psychiatric connotation.

The panel was also opposed to any language that seemed to blame the patient. For example, it would be incorrect to refer to a patient with medication overuse headache as a “medication overuser” or to talk about a “chronic headache patient.” (In this last example, what would ‘chronic’ refer to: the patient or the headache?

The panel also agreed to avoid the use of “migraine headache” unless one was specifically discussing pain associated with migraine.

Are there words associated with migraine that you would like to see eliminated from regular use?

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