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Faking It

Headache advocates are taking to social media to express their (justified) outrage about a wikiHow that explains how to fake a migraine. The article, one of many “how to fake” pieces on the website, suggests that, although migraines can be hard to fake, one can approximate it with some squinting and head-touching.1

Obviously, this article is wildly offensive to those of us who have regular migraines, and who desperately need people to believe when we have an attack. One of the main problems facing people with migraine is what I call the “legitimacy deficit.” Even though people know that migraine is a real biological disorder, an individual complaint of migraine remains easy to dismiss as “just a headache.” That’s the problem with pain – it’s invisible, impossible to test with any diagnostic test, and completely subjective. What’s more, pain is difficult to describe. That’s why so many of us say that only people with migraine can understand how bad it can be.

Even doctors are skeptical of people who complain of migraine. Stories abound about people who are turned away from the Emergency Department because a doctor believes that they are merely drug-seeking. And at least one study has shown that a substantial subset of neurologists think that their headache patients either have emotional problems or other motivations to maintain their disability. Even the federal government doesn’t think that migraine is serious—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides disturbingly little funding for headache research.

Granted, a wikiHow article is hardly the source of the problem. But it is emblematic of a broader issue – one that all of us need to work on changing. Because the irony is that while some people might think faking migraine is a good idea, the rest of us are trying to hide our very real, very debilitating migraines.

The wikiHow article warns readers that faking a migraine too often can lead to suspicion. Unfortunately, having real migraines too often leads to the same problem. How many of you have put on a brave face, even as your head is exploding?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

How to Fake a Headache at School. WikiHow. Available at: Accessed August 25, 2014


  • onehsancare
    5 years ago

    I wanted to see the WikiHow article and I’m glad to report that it no longer exists. They still have “How to Fake a Headache,” but it now (perhaps it did in the past, too–I don’t know) includes this comment in the first paragraph: “However, faking any illness can not only get you in trouble if you get caught, but also contributes to society’s view that the symptoms suffered by people with migraines are not serious, since there is still a great stigma attached to this chronic neurological disorder.”

    The rest of the article is a lame set of instructions for teenagers wanting to stay home from school. (Can’t be because they hadn’t finished a project, because they’re not staying up working on the project, they’re going to bed early and pretending to have a headache . . . . Hmm.)

  • PSP
    5 years ago

    I have had the same problem. I dread going to the ER because I had a Dr. say they would not continue to treat me for migraines. As migraine sufferers know, during a migraine, it is hard to articulate what you are feeling and what you want to say. So, after I recovered, I wrote a letter to the President of our hospital. I told him I did not want to be “treated” by the hospital, I merely wanted them to get me out of an attack when I have been unable to do so myself. Also, the ONLY medication that knock a migraine out (for me) is Percocet. My GP does not want to prescribe percocet for migraines and my neurologist will not prescribe percocet for migraines….How can people who legitimately need a narcotic get them?????

  • Vanessa
    5 years ago

    This is an outrage. We all “fake” being ok when we are in agony.

  • Kelli
    5 years ago

    This really hit home bc I was recently told by an ER dr that I would be “red flagged” as a drug seeker. This is all bc I was being seen too often for migraine, I would only go (and still to this day) if the attack has lasted more than a few days with no relief. I’m a mommy of a 1yr old and twin 9yr olds I don’t get to go curl up in a dark room unless the kids are asleep. My fiancé helps as much as he can but he also works 7-7 all week. I get stressed out going to the ER bc I’m afraid of which dr I’ll get bc of that experience.

  • Tim Autry
    5 years ago

    The only “Faking It” I’ve ever done is trying to hide the fact I’m having a migraine. That way I don’t get all the derogatory comments that include “Oh take an aspirin, it’s just a headache” and relax a moment or “Oh my mother’s first cousin got migraines and she use to do/take ___________ (fill in the blank) or you have a migraine, you seem to have them pop up when they are convenient (aka we have a deadline to complete a mortally impossible task). But to actually “fake” a migraine in and of itself is just downright dishonest and puts additional burden on all of us migraineurs with our employer, co-workers and managers.

  • Brian in TN
    5 years ago

    When my migraines were diagnosed in the Navy they were ocular (visual aura only with no pain), and then 1 year later It felt like someone was pushing ice picks into my brain, every day while I was trying to learn a new nuclear reactor plant (like learning the entire contents of a set of encyclopedias in 6 months). When I realized I would never be able to qualify in time I insisted on receiving medical care and at that point I was labeled a malingerer by nearly everyone at the command. When I finally got to see a neurologist his first question was “Do you want to get out of the Navy?” and I could see in his eyes that I was just one more useless wimp saying anything to get out even though I had volunteered to go to a sea going command after 5 years of sea duty. His attitude never changed but mine certainly did, after 2 1/2 years of having people I had formerly respected disrespecting me for not being willing to torture myself to make their lives slightly easier I couldn’t wait to get out. I was so filled with hatred toward the military I allowed the IRS to keep $7000 in taxes I didn’t owe just to avoid seeing a VA doctor. In fact I waited 15 years before going to the VA to force them to finally give me the medical care I was promised when I volunteered. I hope the military is the worst about treating people with invisible disorders because those veterans I have talked to about it all agree it’s hell being thrown away like a flat tire as soon as you’re no longer useful to the mission. I pray I never end up face to face with someone who is “faking it” or teaching others how, I know that one of the worst symptoms of my disorder is my temper and I’m relatively sure I couldn’t control it if confronted by someone who would contribute to some of the most miserable moments in my life. I don’t know if anyone has successfully used migraines as a defense for temporary insanity in a felony trial, but I’m pretty damn sure I wouldn’t be left with any other option.

  • Star71
    5 years ago

    I can’t believe people would stoop so low as to fake a migraine…
    I’m a daily migraine sufferer and get accused of ‘faking it’ often… I hear “How can your head hurt EVERY DAY?”, “Shouldn’t you be in bed with a migraine in the dark?”, etc… All the usuaul things people associate w/ migraines…
    I always have to come back w/ “I have 2 kids to take care of, I HAVE to work, are you going to PAY MY BILLS, etc…” and then I proceed to get a dirty look.
    I’d love nothing more to be locked in my room, curtains drawn and sleep… But w/ a toddler there’s no way THAT is going to happen…
    So I have to suck it up and put on a brave face and push on as miserable as I feel, no matter how many times I may vomit, some days I’ll put on cartoons and he’ll watch cartoons b/c I just can’t do anything else.
    The people who fake it though… SHAME ON YOU… THERE’S A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL FOR YOU!!!!
    It’s sad for people who are severe chronic sufferers, so severe they should be on disability, such as myself b/c even the fluorescent lightening in debilitating but they can’t be b/c there’s no way to PROVE IT so to speak…
    It’s crazy… I take 400mg of Topamax everyday to try and combat my migraines… and it makes them ‘somewhat’ manageable…
    That’s sad…

  • Vanessa
    5 years ago


  • Genny
    5 years ago

    Why would you want to fake a migraine? The person faking has OBVIOUSLY NEVER had a migraine or they wouldn’t be faking. This really peeves me because those of us who do suffer can’t get taken seriously by our bosses, our family,our friends, etc with this type of thing going on. Had to file FMLA because boss thought I was habitually using time… REALLY? You have OBVIOUSLY NEVER had a migraine…Not something to joke about- I would go to work joyfully everyday if I could just feel better/ without a migraine constantly…

  • Still Smiling
    5 years ago

    It’s easy to say the word,
    Easy to accuse
    Something that is not understood
    But scorned and ridiculed
    To you, it’s a word
    To me, an accusation
    A reason for shame and guilt
    The reason I hide
    Behind this fake smile of mine

    I fake the smile on my lips,
    the cheeriness in my voice,
    the words ‘I’m feeling fine’
    — all a lie

    The tale is not one of make-believe
    this is who I used to be
    all smiles and giggles
    the life and soul
    but now I’m a mere shell
    of who I used to be


    Now I’m locked away in a world of pain
    Doctors no use
    Manage your triggers they say
    Some good advice

    Tell me, would you manage?
    Lights too bright
    Sounds too loud
    Too much sunlight
    Too many storms
    Not enough sleep
    Too much sleep
    Not enough to eat
    Wrong thing I ate
    Not enough to drink
    Coffee I drank
    Too much stress
    Too little stress
    Too happy
    Too sad

    Too much. Full stop.

    Doctor, would you manage?

    To the naked eye,
    I am whole – unblemished
    The reason ”faking it”
    becomes an easy accusation

    If I had a mark for every symptom
    Would you not agree
    that it’s tough to be me?

    Should I take a knife to make you see?
    One cut for every symptom wrong with me?

    Then you might see,
    how tough it is to be me

    Then you wouldn’t say ”faker”
    but, perhaps, ”attention seeker”

    How else do I make you see?
    How tough it is to be me?

    Even I don’t know anymore
    Since my smile has long since
    forgotten genuine joy.

    I am a faker
    but not the kind you accuse
    because all you see is this smile,
    which is no longer me

    But here I am,
    still smiling – outside
    crying a river – inside

    As long as my smile you can see
    then there’s nothing wrong with me.

  • Still Smiling
    5 years ago

    @shine4him: this isn’t posted anywhere other than here as I wrote it in response to this article – fairly spur of the moment. Thank you for interest in it though and I don’t mind you sharing it as part of ”invisible illness week”. As it’s not currently posted anywhere, to make it easy for you to share, I’ve just posted it’s facebook page as a post to page which you should be able to access from here: – – thanks, Still-Smiling 😀

  • shine4him
    5 years ago

    Awesome. Hey, do you have this posted on a blog or somewhere that’s “shareable”? I’d like to forward this on FB during Invisible Illness Week if that’s ok.

  • Erin
    5 years ago

    That sums up my life almost perfectly. And so true.

  • Flapharder
    5 years ago

    very apt….thanks

  • Still Smiling
    5 years ago

    Having been previously accused of faking it, this is massively out of order! Anyone who fakes any sort of illness needs their heads testing, and as for encouraging people to do it – disgraceful! There should be a wikiHow article that reflects what most of us do on a daily basis: ”how to fake being fine with a critical and debilitating condition” – it’s so infuriating that it’s easy for someone to look at you and ‘see’ no symptoms and assume there’s nothing wrong. I wonder if I had a physical symptom sign or symptom for everything that I/we all suffer through with migraines, how would we look then? We would probably be stared at continuously and shunned for not appearing to be normal…

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago
  • nevada_knitwit
    5 years ago

    It boggles my mind that *anyone* would want to fake a migraine! There must hundreds of other conditions that one could fake if one were merely try to score drugs or the like. I’ve suffered from migraines for 30 years, and I’ve suffered from chronic migraines for more than 10 years. I agree that the only way to understand migraine is to experience migraine for yourself, but I wouldn’t wish migraine on anyone. As others have said, it is insulting to every migraineur who lives with this disease that someone would attempt to fake a migraine – for any reason. For shame!

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    Hi!! I was just diagnosed with migraines…after years of headaches. I’ve been hospitalized 3 times for headaches…and it was just this last time that they mentioned migraine. I know people fake it…my husband works in an ER…he sees it every night. It makes me so mad!! I’m so scared that because of what they see…will they think this of me if/when I end up back in the ER again??

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Thank you Joanna for eloquently writing what I’ve been saying for years – the only way to end migraine stigma is to start at the top and work our way down. This mean educating the doctors who treat us, the general public and even migraine/headache patients.


  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    When loved ones are truly educated about migraine, there is no way to hide it. Even when I try to push through, I am gently confronted by family members who see right through my “brave face”. I spent decades trying to hide them. I had been conditioned by society to be ashamed of my disability. A few years ago I decided I was done with that. Once I started sharing the truth, my family and friends were shocked by the sheer number of attacks I actually experienced.

    Honesty is the best policy. When people are insensitive, rude, and disbelieving, I tend to get in their faces about it. I’m even worse if someone is directing that attitude toward my children (both migraineurs). Momma bear is fighting mad. I’ve had it with stigma!

  • James wadding
    5 years ago

    This is why we try and hide it so often, I have them every 10 to 15 days. For me I’ve found its the same thing as my back pain after two fusions and countless other procedures and now living on more meds. I’m always trying to hide it because of the way most people think about people who say their backs are hurting. People think they are only saying it to get out of doing things. At least the people who are close to me know what is going on. Just because someone can’t see what is wrong doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything wrong.

  • Tonyglock
    5 years ago

    This is infuriating. This is a slap in the face to all of us who suffer with migraines and chronic headaches on a daily basis. THERE IS NO CURE and they are desensitizing people as to how debilitating this can be. This is not only dangerous but reckless for them to post this. What would people think if the article told people how fake having cancer or other serious diseases. That page and other pages like this should be removed.

    The authors obviously do not realize the damage they are causing. Sometimes it is hard to let friends and loved ones know the severity of our pain. They do not realize not only how debilitating the attacks can be physically but also the feelings of guilt and loneliness that one feels when they have to retreat away from people who they care about. This is not a topic to be taken trivially. Does anyone know if there is a way to request that wikihow remove this article?

    I have been a chronic daily sufferer of migraines of at least a level 6 EVERY DAY for the last 13 years.

  • Maureen
    5 years ago

    When my head is truly exploding – I’d call that an 8 out of 10 or higher – there is no faking it! But it is far more common for me to try to persevere through a severe migraine – a 6 or 7. I might not be too successful at “faking” feeling fine, but I definitely try to finish up my work before collapsing. At this level, I am definitely refusing invitations and postponing anything that can be rescheduled. As for my very common, lingering, “will not go away” chronic migraine – a general 4 or 5 – I am definitely trying to “fake it till I make it” and “smile and hope my brain jumps on the bandwagon.”
    The real frustration is when the pain/disability level fluctuates wildly. Then it is hard to pretend I am anything but a crazy migraneur!
    Also, my migraines are VERY susceptible to motion. The real problem here is that sitting around “doing nothing” gets old, and it is hard to not feel like a loser. A great way to “fake” it is to find an activity that I can do while sitting quietly. It is terrible to feel like you have to justify your existence (and this is completely self-imposed in my case), but it is easy to fall into this thinking when I am struck with migraine. Sometimes, I think I am “faking it” for my own sake as much as anyone else’s.

  • Linda K.
    5 years ago

    When you have chronic migraines, as I do, and some days are better than others (but still there),it is still migraine! Even if you can sometimes function, sort of. I don’t normally have the kind of attack that sends one to the hospital, but the daily pain and lack of concentration and sensitivity to just about everything is so very disabling. I am fortunate to have family and friends who understand. My daughter just has to hear my voice to know if I’m in the midst of a bad spell. But when I was working, that was not usually the case.
    It is not surprising to me that others can’t understand it. I don’t understand it myself!!

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