The Real Impact of Migraines on Quality of Life: Data from the 2015 Migraine in America Survey

Besides managing symptoms and treatment options, migraine patients are often faced with managing the disease’s impact on the quality of their lives and their emotions.  When asked to describe their migraines in one word – Debilitating was the overwhelming leader among patients’ responses.  Other words mentioned described the impact of the pain or the overall life impact.

This debilitating effect of migraines not only impacts their health and well-being, it also carries over into their relationships and career. These insights were gathered from 4,502 patients currently diagnosed with migraines during the Migraine in America 2015 survey.  The study not only asked individuals about their symptoms and diagnosis journey, it also examined treatment experience and quality of life.

The survey included the migraine disability assessment (MIDAS) test to measure the impact that migraines had on patients’ lives over the previous 3 months.1  In scoring the data, 71% of those surveyed were classified as Grade IV, which is considered Severe Disability.  Not surprising however that there was a significant difference in the proportion of chronic vs. non-chronic migraine patients who were Grade IV (90% as compared to 52%).

Among all patients surveyed in the 3 months prior to the survey, the average number of days impacted because of headaches:

  • 7 – Missed work or schedule
  • 7 – Missed family, social or leisure activities
  • 5 – Productivity at work or school reduced by half or more
  • 3 – Productivity in household work reduced by half of more
  • 19.3 – Not do household work (such as housework, home repairs and maintenance, shopping, caring for children and relatives)

This incapacitating effect of migraines, is illustrated by 70%* constantly worrying about disappointing others and 52%* feeling embarrassed about having migraines.

Over half of those surveyed indicated migraines have affected their ability to maintain friendships (51%*) and 36%* have lost friends due to migraines. Sadly, 78%* of patients feel that their family, friends or colleagues don’t understand that their migraines are “not just headaches” and 54%* feel that friends/family/colleagues treat them differently because of their migraines.

Probing into patients’ marital status, 63% were married and 9% were in a committed long-term relationships at the time of the survey. 64%* of these individuals found that migraines have severely impacted the relationship with their spouse/significant other.  Among the 27% patients who were single, 50% were separated/divorced, 43% were never married and 8% were widowed.

As for relationships with their children, 62%* of those with children cited that migraines severely impact this relationship.  Seventy-two percent of those surveyed had children; among them, 24% had one, 43% had two and 34% had 3 or more.

Of the patients surveyed, 59% were still currently employed in some capacity (44% full time), 14% were on disability and 7% were stay at home parents.  A total of 82%* of patients cited that migraines have impacted their work/career at least somewhat during their lives.  Most patients surveyed were from household with total incomes less than $100K (76%) and only 4% were from households with incomes over $200K.

When asked to select from a list of words, those words that described how they feel about themselves and/or their life with migraines – Frustrated was indicated by 60% of respondents.  This was more than twice of the next word selected by those surveyed (Helpless at 29% and Depressed at 28%). However, 40%* have experienced severe depression or suicidal thoughts due to their migraines.

With such frustration, it’s not surprising that patients seek out and use resources as they navigate the symptom management and treatment journey.  Eighty-five percent of patients turned to migraine specific websites as a resource to learn about or manage the disease, along with 76% turning to their healthcare professional as such a resource.  General health websites were used by only half of respondents, and social media by 40%.

While it may be well understood that migraines have a negative impact on patients’ quality of life, the extent of that impact is underestimated. Migraines impact every aspect of a person’s life, including friendships, relationships with significant others, relationships with children, employment, mental health, and much more.

* indicates that on a 5-point scale, patients rated at least somewhat for the statement (mid-point)

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