Why isn’t migraine a legitimate reason to miss work?

I’d love to ask this question of every employer I can find. Too many of us have been treated as though we are lying about, faking, or exaggerating our symptoms in order to avoid work or other obligations. Unless you experience the stroke-like symptoms of hemiplegic migraine, no one else can actually confirm that your symptoms are real. I’ve even heard of health care providers who accuse hemiplegic migraineurs of faking it!

What is up with this complete lack of empathy for the 8th leading cause of disability in the world? What did we ever do to deserve this kind of treatment? Part of the problem is the societal view of migraine as “just a headache”. No one thinks of head pain as a serious problem unless there is proof of a tumor, stroke, aneurysm, or concussion. In the absence of these, the typical response is, “Oh, you’re just fine.”

You and I both know that we are anything but fine. Lights and sound set off searing pain, compounding the incessant throb pounding inside your head. Waves of nausea threaten to erupt into vomiting at any moment. Your head feels too heavy to lift and the slightest movement produces sharp stabs. The urge to hide in the dark wrapped in ice packs is irresistible. The thought of trying to work in this situation is untenable. Driving is out of the question. No job in the world is possible during an acute attack.

We need to educate employers about the severity of migraine attacks, teach them how simple it is to make accommodations, and help them to understand that “taking a pill” simply does not return an employee to full capability within minutes. Even in the best circumstances when triptans do work, it can take several hours before a migraine patient is capable of productive work.

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