Learning the full impact of migraine through patient voices: A qualitative study

Headache. 2021 Jul;61(7):1004-1020. doi: 10.1111/head.14151. Epub 2021 Jun 3.


Objective: To better characterize the ways that migraine affects multiple domains of life.

Background: Further understanding of migraine burden is needed.

Methods: Adults with migraine randomized to mindfulness-based stress reduction or headache education arms (n = 81) in two separate randomized clinical trials participated in semistructured in-person qualitative interviews conducted after the interventions. Interviews queried participants on migraine impact on life and were audio-recorded, transcribed, and summarized into a framework matrix. A master codebook was created until meaning saturation was reached and magnitude coding established code frequency. Themes and subthemes were identified using a constructivist grounded theory approach.

Results: Despite most participants being treated with acute and/or prophylactic medications, 90% (73/81) reported migraine had a negative impact on overall life, with 68% (55/81) endorsing specific domains of life impacted and 52% (42/81) describing impact on emotional health. Six main themes of migraine impact emerged: (1) global negative impact on overall life; (2) impact on emotional health; (3) impact on cognitive function; (4) impact on specific domains of life (work/career, family, social); (5) fear and avoidance (pain catastrophizing and anticipatory anxiety); and (6) internalized and externalized stigma. Participants reported how migraine (a) controls life, (b) makes life difficult, and (c) causes disability during attacks, with participants (d) experiencing a lack of control and/or (e) attempting to push through despite migraine. Emotional health was affected through (a) isolation, (b) anxiety, (c) frustration/anger, (d) guilt, (e) mood changes/irritability, and (f) depression/hopelessness. Cognitive function was affected through concentration and communication difficulties.

Conclusions: Migraine has a global negative impact on overall life, cognitive and emotional health, work, family, and social life. Migraine contributes to isolation, frustration, guilt, fear, avoidance behavior, and stigma. A greater understanding of the deep burden of this chronic neurological disease is needed to effectively target and treat what is most important to those living with migraine.

Keywords: chronic illness; coping; disease burden; headache; patient-centered; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Catastrophization / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / complications
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Migraine Disorders / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life* / psychology
  • Social Stigma