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A “Migraine Personality”?

“Patients suffering from migraine [without aura] show more depressive symptoms, difficult anger management with a tendency to hypercontrol, and a distinctive personality profile with high harm avoidance, high persistence and low self-directedness.. . . .

“The results suggest that the personality traits and psychosomatic
mechanisms of migraine patients
may make them vulnerable to stress and
less skilled in coping with pain.”

Ack! Just the news migraineurs need when they’re trying to convince themselves and others that their pain is real. Now people who give the unsolicited advice that our headaches will go away if we’d just resolve our “issues” and relax have more ammunition.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want people with headache to be further stigmatized or stereotyped, but I have a hard time believing there’s a migraine personality. Of the traits listed in the study, I have depressive symptoms, high persistence and some harm avoidance. I’ve become much calmer and more laid back in recent years, but my headaches persist.

Like with depression, the chicken or egg question has to be considered. I’m hoping that further research will contradict these findings.

Do you think there’s a migraine personality and, if so, do you have that personality?

59 Responses to A “Migraine Personality”?

  1. deborah says:

    Kerri, I found this “interesting” in a strange way. They interviewed those without aura only; and only those with migraine. I’m wondering what their view is on patients with chronic pain as a whole. I was fit into one of those so-called personalities in one of the “elite” migraine hospitals, shocker. And like you, I’ve managed to bring not only my stress level down, but my ability to cope with pain and tolerance of everyday occurances. If they could see me now, I wonder where they would place me as far as their personality scale.

  2. Sue says:

    I’m not convinced that there is a migraine personality. It falls into the same trap as so many other labels in that it limits a full understanding of each unique situation.

  3. Heather says:

    Doctors give me that garbage too: “Oh, if you change who you are or discover your unresolved issues then maybe the migraines will go away.”

    Comments like this leave me seething! I can certainly see familiar traits with regards to “migraine personality” but I don’t believe that there really is such a thing. Generalizations like these are so dangerous.

    If they applied such logic to any other disease, they would realize how foolish they are being!

  4. your favorite m.i.l. says:

    This really made me angry. I’m dead sure if I were in constant pain I’d have difficulty coping. This is just another version of blame the victim. Epilipsy, Hansen’s (leprosy), depression and even cancer have all at one time been blamed on the sufferers. This kind of judgment made life for my own dear m.i.l. more difficult. I had hoped we were past that.

  5. sue says:

    Well, my migraines only started after I had brain surgery and I have no aura. I sort of fit the profile they describe. So, are they now going to tell ME that my migraines are psycological and not because of the 3 x 6 cm area removed from my brain? This makes me furious.

  6. Sandi says:

    Wow. I have been getting migraines for 37 years and have only had 2 auras prior. Of course I may have some depressive tendencies, and want to avoid pain at all costs, and I think I am very persistance when it comes to wanted to know how I can control them. The frustration level gets high when doctors refer you to other doctors who want to try the same things you have tried before, with out success. I still go to work every day and just love it when my co-workers say “Oh, you must have a headache, I can see it in your face.” Just warms the heart – but the pain is still there!

  7. m says:

    Hmmm. I get migraines without aura (unless you count occasional episodes of “tingling of the face” as an aura), have a long history of depression and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which include some of those other traits). I’ve gotten tired of getting angry over people believing I’m less skilled in coping with pain or that it’s all in my head. I prefer to think of it as the fact that some people are naturally more susceptible to pain. Or that some people just naturally have more pain. Some people get cancer, some don’t. Some people have a lot of pain, some don’t. I know that my pain is real. I know that the pain isn’t purely psychological. I also know that stress, depression and hypomanic episodes can make my pain worse. But at the same time, I can be perfectly happy and relaxed and still have daily pain. It’s just there. I’ve been lucky (knock on wood) to find both a neuro and a psych doc who seem to understand both aspects and try to work with both. It’s all a big question mark, but I doubt I’ll find the answer in my lifetime. There’s only so much that meds and therapy can do. I doubt that anybody can truly change their personality, whether it’s a “migraine personality” or any other personality. The stereotypes are always going to be there, but I try to ignore the people who believe in them. It’s frustrating. And I’m sure some people would completely disagree with me.

  8. I’ve never had a migraine in my life, and I have all the personality traits you listed on a GOOD day. Don’t believe the hype.

  9. Teri Robert says:

    Good heavens! Why don’t they just take us back to the good old days of trepanning — drilling holes in our heads? That would be less insulting.

    Seriously, these “researchers” need to get with some real researchers and look at some PET scans of people having Migraines. I dare them to even try to make a case for what’s going on in the brain during a Migraine being related to “Migraine personality.” If these people were here in the US, I’d be organizing a group of Migraineurs to pay them a visit!

  10. Kerrie says:

    Thanks for all the terrific comments! There are more comments on migraine personalities in this post:
    http://www.thedailyheadache.com/2007/03/personality_com.html

    I wasn’t clear about one point in this post — I don’t think the research is showing that our pain isn’t real, but I think that’s how a lot of people could interpret it.

    It’s not that these traits cause the migraines, just that more people who have these traits tend to have migraine. (Not sure how clear that distinction is.)

    Kerrie

  11. Elaine says:

    Migraines are a disease. Period. And I’m tired of hearing that it’s all in my head. That it’s my personality. I’m a generally happy person, not very stressed, laughing all the time, but when I get a migraine I feel very depressed, of course. Try telling cancer patients it’s their personality. I’m not comparing migraines to cancer, I know that migraines are not deadly (unless you can’t stand the pain anymore and you commit suicide) However, I am only making the comparison because there is a root cause. In cancer, there is the tumor. In migraines, there are physical changes in the brain, specifically with blood vessels and chemicals (seratonin, etc) The stigma that it’s just “a bad headache”, or it’s just caused by personality traits is ignorant. Doctors and researchers should know better by now.

  12. Johanne says:

    This is a very complicated area. I dont want to offend anyone.

    The purpose of studies like this is not to make migraine sufferers look bad. When medical students learn about pain they learn that it is whatever the patient says it is.

    What is important to understand is that the brain is an extremely complicated organ. Even though we know alot, there is infinitely more that we dont know about how it works.

    Actually I would see it as progress if we could prove that depression and anger is connected to migraines. Then we would know more about how to treat the pain.

    It is very difficult to say anything about the mechanisms behind head aches, and anything that could connect it to something we know something about is helpful to understand better how to treat it.

    Also pain in general is very difficult. Certain types of pain we dont have good treatments for eg postherpetic neuralgia, phantom pain etc. And as long as we dont have any chemicals to treat these types of pain with, our best option, like it or not, is to help the patient to just deal with it.

    This goes for head aches and migraine too. It is not an attempt to stigmatize anyone, it is just that modern medicine still dont have any better options. Studies like this one is an attempt to better understand the mechanisms of the pain so that we can find a more satisfactory treatment.

  13. Kerrie says:

    I agree that the study isn’t about making migraine sufferers look bad, but am concerned that most people who hear or see these results will interpret them as such.

    Causing migraine and occurring in people with migraine are two separate issues. This is another thing that I don’t think the general population — and many headaches sufferers — know. Which again can lead to misinterpretation.

    It’s crucial that we learn how migraine and headache work in the body. Understanding this will take a long, long time, but this study is just one in a large body of research that contributes to such knowledge.

    Kerrie

  14. hilly says:

    This is on behalf of my adult daughter who is on her 5th day of a level 5 migraine (level 5 is OMG, can’t tolerate light, sound, movement, excrutiating non stop pain) On depression–Who wouldn’t be depressed after years of unrelenting pain? Who wouldn’t go out of their way to avoid more? And ALL migraineurs are persistant, you all persistantly seek a solution, ANY solution, that will give you back your lives. The anger is probably frustration coming out as anger and I’ll bet those researchers don’t have migraines!

    *********
    I’m sorry your daughter’s migraine has been so severe. I hope she has gotten through it now.

    Thanks for the input on the article. I certainly agree with you.

    Kerrie

  15. nancy says:

    It is so frustrated and yes, depressing, that doctors still (even a highly referred migraine headache center) don’t know much about migraines and do not really ‘get it’ so far as how real and unmanageable the pain is. It is overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it when I was told that a doctor even put on my chart that I overuse narcotics. He ‘red-flagged’ me so that Emergency Rooms wouldn’t treat me for migraines when I would go there for help when my migraine headache meds wouldn’t help me. Even murderers have a defense attorney to defend them. Migraine suffers, the most part, don’t even get that!

    *********
    Great points. I’m sorry you’ve had so much trouble getting the treatment you need. I wish you the best of luck.

    Kerrie

  16. Bunny says:

    “The results suggest that the personality traits and psychosomatic mechanisms of migraine patients may make them vulnerable to stress and less skilled in coping with pain.”

    Pardon? I am awesome at coping with pain! I’m used to it, I know how to deal, and I know how to carry on regardless.

    I’ve had migraines since I was two. Migraines have shaped my personality, not the other way around.

    ********
    It’s great that you’re so good at coping with your pain. Having to live with it for so long definitely makes someone an expert!

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  17. Kelly says:

    Just found your blog.

    This is problematic. Because as my aura effect has become more controlled, I’ve become more concerned with being pain-free or at least in low levels of pain instead of high. But I think that’s because human beings don’t like to live in agony.

    I know that migraines, with auras and many times only as auras, have left me more open to depression and sometimes a bit scatter-brained. But that’s because from time to time my brains are scrambled. Once the migraine goes away many of my cognition problems fade and I have a better outlook on life. Imagine that.

    So, I can buy that migraine suffers adapt in ways that cause certain behavioral patterns, but not that their attitude causes migraines.

    ********
    It is so hard to sort out! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    Kerrie

  18. dreamweaver says:

    Linked to your Blog from Terri Robert’s site. Don’t have much time now, but am anxious to browse later. This post caught my attention immediately, because I am also tired of hearing that migraineurs “cause” their own headaches by the way they react to things. I guess that means people with other pain-related diseases also cause their condition because of their personality? Get real….

    Briefly, I am female, age 56, who has suffered with migraines since childhood. Little did I know migraines often manifest in children as stomach problems when young. Then when the hormones started… well, I’m sure you can imagine.

    As I read through your blog, I am sure I will have lots of responses. Looking forward to getting to know you. Migraines often make life a living hell and it’s always good to have friends in hell, isn’t it?

    Barb

    ********
    Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to getting to know you too and am eager to read your comments.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  19. Jim says:

    These research findings simply show that certain personality traits are associated with migraine. The authors do not claim that the findings show that personality traits CAUSE migraines. This is simply one potential explanation of the findings; as the authors note, there are other equally plausible potential explanations. Additionally, even if the study allowed for such causal explanations (which it doesn’t and doesn’t pretend to), showing that psychological distress is a trigger for migraine does not mean that individuals’ headaches are “all in their head” or they are “making it up”. I can’t say exactly which institution is responsible for this misconception, but scientific research is pretty clear on the fact that psychological and biological phenomena are intrinsically tied. Environmental incidents (e.g, extreme stress) can CAUSE structural brain abnormalities (e.g., damage to the HPA axis) which then may lead to psychological disorders like Depression. It is quite possible that your psychological problems (e.g., stress) trigger biological processes (like muscle tension and vascular constriction) that result in headache. This doesn’t seem controversial to me, but then again I am not a headache researcher.

    I understand that you are frustrated with your disorders, and cringe at the thought of being invalidated by research; but this research is not intrinsically invalidating and could be potentially useful in solving some folks’ headache problems. Your fear of being invalidated may cause you to reject some potentially useful insight. I already have seen a link between my own stress and chronic headaches through daily monitoring. I hope this insight will cause me to begin a regimen of daily relaxation/stress management that will help to reduce my headaches. If it makes any positive change it will have already been a more effective treatment than topamax, tricyclic antidepressants, chiropractic, and physical therapy (imitrex works pretty well, but I only have the pleasure of taking it twice per week out of fear for rebound headaches). I wish you all the best of luck.

    ********
    I agree with you. It’s the reporting of the study that I’m concerned about. This is just the sort of article that will wind up twisted in the media.

    Kerrie

  20. Migraineur says:

    The state of science reporting in this country is, not to put too fine a point on it, bad. Correlation is not cause. One example: people with high blood cholesterol have more heart disease. Is this because high blood cholesterol causes heart disease? Or is it because heart disease causes high blood cholesterol? Or does some third thing cause both? Or it is a coincidence? (Someone needs to answer that question for me before I will take cholesterol meds.)

    *********
    You can say that again!

    Kerrie

  21. Renae says:

    Do any of those people doing the study have migraines? I actually have a high pain tollerence (so I’ve been told) I’m not under any stress to speak of. I can tell you that I have a personality change right before having a migraine. I’m quite cranky and want to be alone. The I have a migraine and 3 days latter I’m my happy loving self again. If people doing these studies had migraines they would have a whole different view on it.

    *********
    That’s a great question. I certainly know that when my migraines aren’t bad, I am also my happy self.

    Kerrie

  22. Laura says:

    While I agree that disrespect toward or stigmatizing migraineurs may not have been the intent, it is extremely dangerous and inflammatory to use the word “psychosomatic.” Suggesting that this is a somatoform disorder on any level is insulting. It is also probably one of the worst ways to marginalize progress in the way of treatment, because somatoform says – “Yes, you’re in actual pain, but actually IS all in your head, so there is nothing medicine can do to help you, go get therapy.”

    We haven’t really come such a long way from the days of Bewitched, when Samantha’s incredibly neurotic “migraine personality” mother-in-law had to go lay down from a “sick headache.”

    *******
    Ooh, I didn’t realize that Samantha’s mother-in-law fit the type. I agree that we haven’t come very far at all.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  23. tana says:

    I am in the midst of a migraine which is now heading into its 4th week. I have had migraines my whole life – from a very early age (2 or 3 years old) – but have never had an “entrenched migraine” like this before. I have taken a multitude of pain medication, particularly over the past week, my current pharmacist and Dr., I’m sure, think I’m a drug addict … but, what are you supposed to do?! I use the dark room, ice bags, lots of water to drink, etc,. etc.

    I am a single mother and my young son is very self-sufficient from necessity. I work full-time – and am constantly judged by my co-workers for having to take time off work due to a “headache.”

    I spent 2 days in Emergency last week – got Demeral, Morphine, and all that stuff – sent away and told to come back for the IV treatment if that didn’t work. They told me to prepare for 12 – 14 hours or more for that. I don’t have 12 hours to sit in a hospital waiting room (let alone with screaming kids, very sick people, sirens, bright lights, bad smells, etc.)

    To be suffering this kind of disability – and still having to work, and look after my family responsibilities – only to have some researchers say that there is a distinct “migraine personality” – is insulting. I do have depression – “reactive depression” from exposure to prolonged severe stress. I am absolutely NOT a perfectionist, and not high-strung, orderly, analytical or critical. I confess to being conscientious. So this is the profile of a migraineur?

    *******
    Yeah, I’m afraid it is the profile. I do think there’s been some progress, but not a lot.

    I’m sorry you’ve had such an awful migraine. I hope it lets up soon.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  24. Catherine, Williams - Georgia says:

    The Migrainuers that suffer with Auras; please comment more. I have been suffering with Migraines since age 4 and everyone I have had came with an aura. I am now 38 and would like to know what is it I can do to reduce the auras, considering that the medications (Midrin) that I take only adher to the pain (resticting of the blood vessle).

    *********
    That’s a great request. I don’t have aura (as you’ve probably figured out!), but know that triptans (like Imitrex and Maxalt) are really the only treatment for it. Many people can abort a migraine as soon as an aura appears by taking a triptan. This gets rid of the migraine too.

    Here’s some good information on triptans: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/Triptans-serotonin-receptor-agonists-for-migraine-headaches#hw116451
    Not sure if the article says this, but many people have to try multiple brands of triptans before finding the one that works.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  25. cindy says:

    First – in reply to Catherine from Georgia. I have not gotten an aura and cannot imagine how scary it is, but perhaps there is one positive point about auras (even if only 1)? At least you know when the headache is coming. Mine come so gradually over 3-4 days, that I never know when to take the Triptan (I take Amerge) – sometimes for 2 day I think I’m getting a migraine, then I don’t. So I usually wait to be sure, and by then it’s too late for the Triptan to really help. If I had some indication of whether or not the duller pain would actually develop into a debilitating migraine, I’d be happily take my medication right away.

    Second, as far as the migraine personality – I’ve been told that too. I lead a stressful life, have always worked many jobs at once and juggled many responsibilities, but I rarely get a migraine while I’m stressed – I get the let down version. So maybe the stress causes the migraine? However I’ve been having migraines since I was young, and I must say I was far from stressed when I was a child – and besides being busy, I’m very much a type B personality – easy going and relaxed. I am more anxious while having a migraine – so it would appear that anxiety might cause the migraine, however I think it is the reverse and there are studies that support that idea. Oh well – I’m always trying to learn more of these things about myself – finding this blog was so comforting as my headache clinic is currently closing down, and I cannot get a soon enough appointment elsewhere to continue my Botox therapy (which has been the only thing helping so far!) – so my headaches have returned full scale and it’s nice to get emotional support from others in a similar situation, especially since people don’t understand and I have no friends with migraines like mine.

  26. Katie says:

    Hi all. I just found this blog and I am thankful for it! I will definitely be checking in regularly. I spent today sick with a migraine. Woke up with it, sick as a dog all day. Nice. I know you can all relate. But I feel better now and went online to see if I could find the answer to something, which I will pose to you: Do you feel depressed or “spooked” after a headache has left you? I think I do, like it’s a kind of darkness or depression trying to sneak in, but maybe it’s just fatigue from having been in pain for several hours. Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Thanks and take good care.

  27. Tana S. says:

    I just found the site and am glad to find many who suffer regularly as I do. I am a very happy go lucky type I don’t let much get me down and I am a very busy proactive type person, however….(this has happened since I could point to my head and say “urts” according to my ‘rents) when I get a migrane and I dont have my medication (as usuallly nothing OTC helps) my personallity changes to be very negative and depressed. If I get my meds and feel better Im back to the happy ol me!
    I also seem to get a “stress let down” I may be sick with a mig. all day at work and manage but the second I’m off I cant’ drive myself home. does anyone else get really sensitive to smells?

  28. Braden says:

    I’ve had migraines in varying frequency for the last 20 years. The last 3 weeks I have had nightly migraines, this isnt the first time they are up to this frequency, but it is the first time in a long time. I get aura, its no so bad when you consider it an early warning.

    When i read this post I had to comment though, it fits me perfectly. I’m fairly aimless, I consider myself laid back, but the voice in my head often screams when the guy driving is doing something i wouldnt. I guess you could call it hyper-controlling, but i keep that voice inside. I always felt it was related to anger, but i could see it as being a more momentary acute obsession. I avoid anything uncomfortable for me as much as possible. I dont go where there are a lot of people. I try to avoid confrontation and attention. I consider myself as having a high pain threshold, I’m tough and i work in construction, however i am not good at coping with migraine. It reduces me to a scared and sad little man. I fear sleeping tonight at this very moment, i live every moment in fear of the next flare up.

    I dont know if this is the same headache coming back repeatedly, or if these are individual attacks.

    I often deal with slight depression unconnected with the migraines. I get euphoria after a migraine fades, feeling very alive. During normal everyday life i have anger management issues, also internalized. Things make me unimaginably angry most of the time. The voice in my head is a bastard!

    Clearly i dont think any migraine sufferers would use the term psychosomatic lightly, theres definately nothing psychosomatic about my headaches or the accompanying problems.

    I dont think this lends to stereotyping migraine sufferers though. i think every possible link they can find among us helps the comprehensive understanding of what we’re fighting. There have been thousands of studies in the last 20 years and any link, anything that gets us closer to real relief is a step in the right direction.

    I worry more about peoples’ interpretation
    of the study, but not much, because the only people who read studies on migraines are migraine sufferers. I think all migraines sufferers understand the individualty of each person’s circumstances.

    I feel very much for those who have constant migraine. Mine seem to fade after hours, but i can feel “where the headache was” all day the next day. I often describe them as “leaving a mark”. During these nights while writhing in pain i find it hard to slow my mind down. I try to meditate and slow it all down, and listen to what i’m feelign if that makes sense. I get a strong feeling that all resolvable issues in my life need to be taken care of, i feel exactly what you guys are saying is bullshit.

    Maybe its desperation though…

    In desperate times dont we always make this same deal with ourselves, that we will make things right and live our lives the way we feel we should, instead of the way we feel we have to.

    I tell people that migraines will change one’s perspective on a lot of things. People who dont have them have no idea how lucky they are..I think we appreciate things more, especially things like time without pain.

  29. Baba Yaga says:

    My father certainly has the migraine personality (so described). I try (with no more than moderate success) not to; but it is my baseline. My mother and sibling, also migraineurs, none of us with auras, emphatically don’t fit the type.

    I suspect that it’s harder for migraineurs with that native personality type to moderate it, as one must!, than for the healthy, partly because no-one starts out as an expert in the counter-intuitive ways of handling the damn’ things. But that applies to any number of illnesses.

    Also, the very obvious nastiness and (relative) unpredictability of migraine leads others to encourage (unintentionally) a pattern of behaviour which might lead to one’s *developing those characteristics, or to their becoming more prominent. That was the case with my father. When cruelty is excused with ‘It’s just pain”, and pain is regarded (as the mostly-healthy *do regard it) as a reason to excuse oneself from reality – it certainly becomes easier to feed one’s cruelty and avoidance than to feed one’s self-restraint and will to engage with life.

    There is a proper use for a recognition of ‘migraine personality’. Knowing that an unusually high part of the migraine patient population is of that type, it might be possible to identify strategies particularly applicable to, or particularly necessary for, that proportion of the population.

    Unfortunately, the observation of a correlation leads to psychologising where there’s no clear evidence that psychology is causative, and to over-generalisation. That cluster of characteristics is neither unique to migraineurs, nor is it safe to suppose that a migraineur must have them.

  30. amgriffin says:

    I don’t buy it. I think it is a sly and subtle way to blame the person experiencing the migraines for having them. The insinuation being that if they would not indulge in these negative aspects of their personality they would not have the migraines.

    The fact is that migraines are a medical disorder, not a psychiatric disorder. This theory I find akin to the old notion of “hysteria” in women which was “cured” by giving women hysterectomies.

    This theory of migrane personality is not science. It is dangerous psudoscience that ignores the medical realities of the disease.

  31. Carolyn says:

    I get migraines, headaches, neck and back pain since an automobile accident June 2007. If I smell any chemical or odor that annoys me it sets in motion for me a visual and painful experience. I am not sure if I am experiencing an Aura and hope someone can help me determine this. THe smells are real usually vinyl or a chemical or the smell of mold or mildew will start to make me feel a pain in my jaw and tingling up to my head. Visually everything stretches or elongates, and looks flat or 2-dimensional. It gets difficult for me to breath and I start having an asthma attack in addition to terrible pain in my head and neck. I cannot recognize my own children or husband in this state and no longer go to shopping malls alone and without specific purpose (in and out). My family tease me that the vinyl people that suck up all the oxygen live at Walmart, so I cannot go shopping alone there anymore. It is not that simple. I know when I see people they are just people and my eyes are not seeing things correctly. I see people elongated with no faces and flat. They smell or I cannot tell where the smell comes from it just consumes me. Then I vomit violently, and I feel like I cannot breath. It feels like I am in an old Twilight Zone show on TV. I know it is not real and it does not scare me. The fact that it happens scares me. I worry that I must be crazy for this to happen. Then I sleep off the headache for hours. Is this an Aura. I am taking lots of anti-epilepsy medication in very high doses. I have a 6.9mm lesion on right frontal lobe of brain after accident found by CT scan and confirmed via MRI. I have had EEV. Recently they started me on Zoloft as this is making me depressed because I am under threat of losing my drivers license and freedom. I was the victim of a felony hit and run and my life is threatened to be taken away because I was injured. The guy that hit me gets rehab and did not own the car or have a drivers license to lose or own anything. So, he does not care. I had a good life and a career that I loved. I traveled, I did things. Now, I am treated like I have brain damage and even told that on the job.

    *********
    Wow, I’m so sorry you’re suffering so much. What you describe sounds like a migraine aura, but you have so many things going on that it may not be. Are you seeing a neurologist?

    I wish you the best of luck.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  32. Megan Oltman says:

    Kerri – This interested me – I’ve read speculations about a migraine personality in the past – but they mostly centered around being a sensitive person – which made some sense to me – anyway, I’d rather be sensitive than have “high harm avoidance!”

    If our neurons are over-reactive, and have a different sort of membrane (thinner? I forget) over them than in non-migraineurs, I’d imagine they’d be sensitive. Some of the other characteristics they list I have, some not. And I agree that blaming the victim is a likely outcome from this sort of report.

    But here’s the conundrum: of course migraine is not psychological, it’s neurological. But the more they learn about psychology, the more they keep discovering the biochemistry and neurology underneath it. I mean, if someone says “it’s all in your head” they’re really saying “snap out of it – you can control this.” That’s a fallacy, and doesn’t help. But migraines are in our heads – they’re in our brains, and brains are bodily organs too. Just because they’re what we use to think thoughts, and we like to think we are completely independent in producing thoughts, doesn’t mean brains aren’t still subject to disease, injury, malformation, etc. Anyway, my brain is tired and I’m not sure I’m making sense – I’m picking this up in my blog tomorrow – come over and visit!

    – Megs
    http://www.meganoltmanfreemybrain.typepad.com

  33. dhirendra tiwari says:

    i have migrain probles which includes neck and shoulder pain also kindly suggest few yogic asnas

  34. Stacie says:

    “Migraine personality”? That has got to be one of the biggest loads that I have ever heard. There is a vast population of people who suffer from depression or migraines but do not suffer from both. Of course there finding that people with migraines have a higher rate of depression and the rest of that nonsense. Anyone with chronic pain or a chronic health problem that can’t be cured is going to show signs of depression. I have an idea. Let’s beat some of these people in the head a few times, spin them around until they’re dizzy and nauseas. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to shine bright lights in their eyes and stick them in a room full of nasty odors like 10 different perfumes or hot petroleum products for two weeks in a row and see how depressed THEY get. Sorry if I sound bitter. I guess I am. I’m sick of people giving unwanted advice and the nasty comments that always seem to be along these lines: have you taken anything, seen a doctor or, my personal favorite, you have a headache/are sick AGAIN?

  35. Laura says:

    To answer Katie’s question, yes, I typically feel drained and exhausted after a migraine has ended.

    I have seen several studies, very respectable ones, that show a strong link between depression, anxiety and migraines. Those who suffer from migraines are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, including those who suffer infrequently and some before they have their first migraine attack, so the depression and anxiety can not be attributed as being caused by being in chronic pain. Does this mean that depression causes migraines? No, that is using poor logic, just as concluding that rain causes lightning. It only means that whatever conditions that makes one likely to suffer from migraine makes one more prone to suffer from depression or anxiety. And to be clear, being more prone should not be construed as meaning it is inevitable, only statistically more likely.

    Having suffered from severe migraines for 30 years, I have seen research about a “migraine personality” for a very long time. I have seen research that was suggestive of a typical personality and research that debunked the idea. Usually I have seen us described more in terms of being driven, conscientious, and perfectionistic. Valid or not, I can’t help but think, gee, are those supposed to be bad things? I sort of thought those were some of my better qualities, helping me to excel in life.

    Personally, and this is just my opinion and as related to my life, my migraines ARE stress related. Not necessarily on a day-to-day basis, but more as a general barometer as to what is going on in my life overall. Particularly if I am carrying around a bunch of unexpressed anger. I believe all of us, not just migraine sufferers, carry our stress somewhere. Some suffer from neck pain, some have stomach problems, some suffer from back problems, we get migraines. And yes, I think those who suffer from stressful lives are more likely to get cancer. This doesn’t imply blame, certainly nobody would bring any of these things upon themselves voluntarily, only that a stressed organism is weakened and more vulnerable to attack……. and let’s face it, some stress is unavoidable, and sometimes we cope with it better than others. We are only human.

    The mind and the body are interconnected, how can anybody say that one doesn’t affect the other? If physical illness and pain leads to emotional distress, why would it not work the other way around? I don’t feel threatened by these types of articles, because I’m not insecure about admitting that I suffer from the effects of stress. So what? Who doesn’t? I don’t think that migraineurs are unusually neurotic, but reading many of the responses here one is led to believe that they are unusually happy and well-adjusted. C’mon. Me thinks “the lady doth protest too much”.

  36. I came to this blog from the NY Times — you’re probably going to get a lot of new readers that way.

    I don’t think there’s a migraine personality per se; I’ve known too many people with migraines and incredibly disparate personalities to agree with that. What we do share is a genetic predisposition to migraine, which, like depression, is related to how we process serotonin, a neurotransmitter.

    Serotonin processing is also related to depression, another disease I no longer question. I’ve stopped asking “why,” and, when I have a major depressive episode, I just want it to go away, and I don’t care how, just don’t make me talk about it again. I have a chemical imbalance, period.

    Joan Didion wrote an essay in “The White Album” called “In Bed,” about her migraine experiences c. 1968. I read it years ago, and it still resonates for me, particularly the part about major stress not correlating with her headaches.

    Migraines are part and parcel of my life: after 30 years, I don’t care “why.” Instead, I look to my meds to see how fast I can staunch the pain.

    I was diagnosed at age 18 or so, and can recite chapter and verse all the so-called medical breakthroughs in the past 30 years. Personally, I’ve tried the latest and greatest, and not only are the newer drugs expensive, they don’t seem to work the way the old-fashioned ones do. When I have a migraine, give me the tried and true, proven to work for me, regardless of any potentially addictive effects. It’s far too late in the game for me to care.

    Cure my pain, and let’s call it a day. Forget about my personality: my head hurts; I can’t move; I get sensitive to light, sound, and scents; and the little man with the big hammer behind my right eye is having way too much fun. If I can’t kill him, at least I can knock him out long enough to get through the day.

  37. kami says:

    I have experience almost daily migraines since having my last child…I believe there is NO Migraine personality before the onset of migraine. I can certainly see that it can take place after because of the pain and what a sufferer will do to get rid of the pain to deal with daily life. Having 2 small boys and dealing with migraines for more than 8 years on a daily basis, you do become depressed, unable to handle the pain etc. because you are not physically able to do it. It is so very frustrating the amount of money paid out to Doctors promising they can help you and when they don’t they just try to send you to pain management so that those Doctors can load you up on drugs so that you can just get through the day and take care of your children and try not to let them know anything is wrong..when you want to crawl in a hole and never come out. I believe those Doctors have done a disservice and are incorrect in their research. But I don’t believe Doctors anymore anyway.

  38. Rivkah says:

    What an interesting concept that there might be a migraine personality — although I am not sure which causes which or if there really is such a thing. I have terrible migraines. I recently married a man who has epilepsy and I have lately seen articles about an “epileptic personality.” It is a very controversial idea in the epilepsy community. It is true that I am harm avoidant and persistent also, although a little more laid back as I get older.

    I have also been reading studies about the many similarities between migraines and epilepsy. One thing I have noticed is how a person suffering from a migraine or from a simple absence seizure almost can look so very different. I can ALWAYS tell when my husband is about to experience a seizure — it is hard to put into words, but he just looks different…I don’t know if that is just a physical manifestation of my being able to detect a change in his brain’s electrical activity or what…But anyway, people say that I look different also when I am experiencing a migraine. I also have a good friend who has an extremely miserable migraine problem and I don’t even have to ask if she is experiencng a migraine — she just looks different…similar to the manner in which my husband looks different before a seizure.

    *******
    I think the physical changes are fascinating, too. I wrote a post on it that got lots of similar responses: http://www.thedailyheadache.com/2008/01/dark-circles-ey.html. I think you probably have to know someone with migraine (or seizures) or have them yourself to know what people look like during one. It sure would help if more people could identify what’s going on just by our faces.

    Thanks for your insightful comment!

    Kerrie

  39. Charlotte says:

    Like alice, uptown, I got to this from the NYTimes website and I was immediately intrigued by this post! I’m in a bit of a hurry (to see my behavioral therapist) this morning, but here are my immediate thoughts.

    1. I agree with you that while the _research itself_ may simply point out a connection between headaches and certain personality traits, the way it is _reported_ and even interpreted can cause a lot of problems. (I teach rhetoric to college freshmen- there’s daily demonstrations of the difference between what they read and what they say it says!)

    2. My mother and I are both migraineurs (I love that word, so much better than ‘sufferers.) Her migraines have not improved after her retirement, as would be suggested by the “too much stress” theory. Plus, while she has a “high aversion to pain,” I myself have played contact sports, regularly work out to the point of muscle soreness, and I repeatedly engage in ‘risky’ travel to places where there is a real danger of physical harm. (I didn’t have malaria, but I had its close cousin that causes joint paralysis.)

    3. I have noticed a definite link between my headaches and the following: seasonal allergies, barometric pressure changes, red wine (‘duh’ say all the regular headachers out there!), some antidepressants, and visiting my family!

    4. That last one brings me to my final comment…over the past two months I have had a series of blinding headaches, some of the worst of my life. At the same time, I’ve come to a point in therapy where I’m talking about a history of sexual assault and abuse and the ways in which I was forced to “just not talk about it” by friends and family. I don’t think of myself as a victim, just as somebody that had a bunch of bad stuff happen to me in the past. In dealing with these issues (that I’ve tried very hard to ‘not talk about’) the headaches have arrived.

    In other words, I think that my headaches, in this instance, _are_ related to psychologically unhealthy behavior. However, I don’t think that _all_ of my headaches are this way. That would be like saying that “all bruises” I get come from, oh, furniture. (As opposed to other folks, my very playful big dog, being kinda klutzy, etc.) The good thing about all of this is that I am now working with an acupuncturist, both of us believing that my body is holding on to trauma and expressing it as headache. The treatments are doing a world of good, and helping with the physical dimensions of real emotional pain.

    So–do I think there is a ‘migraine personality’? Not necessarily. Do I think that some folks with migraine _might_ benefit from trying really good behavioural therapy? Absolutely. (Unfortunately, there’s a lot of really bad BT out there of the “Just think happy thoughts!” ilk) And I can’t recommend acupuncture enough, both for during attacks and between them. (Many therapists have sliding scale fees, especially for frequent clients, and that’s helped me a lot. It’s cheaper to see my acupuncturist than my neurologist, and she often helps me more!)

  40. Paula says:

    One thing I have not noticed much talk about here is the that migraines are familial and that not all members of families have the same personality traits so the “migraine personality” does not hold true in all cases, or not in my family at least. I am a fouth generation mmigraine “receipient” at least..I do not know if it extends back beyond my gr grandmother but it is very possible.

    I do remember her “sick” headaches with her folded strip of brown paper soaked in vinegar, held to her forhead, struggling to keep up her work and cooking for her “boarders’, and I remember well her son, my grandfather, coming in from work and having to sleep for awhile because of his “sick” headache and not able to eat any dinner, my mom, trying to do her work while in such pain and nausea and my own horrible days of being so sick and in such pain as I tried to function, afraid I would die from the pain and then afraid I wouldn’t…lol… then all 4 of my kids with migraines, 2 with only an occasional attack, the other 2 with severe episodes that interfere with working and just plain living, my youngest started getting hers at 5 years of age, my grandson started getting his at about 7 years of age so that is at least 6 generations that I am sure of. None of have visual migraines with auras except for my grandson who has had the auras a couple of times when he did not get the migraine afterward.

    I and at least one of my daughters have “smell” auras…I can’t shop or go places when I had those because EVERYONE gave off SMELLS…if you have had these auras, you know what I mean.If I was out someplace and everyone started “smelling”. I knew I would have a migraine within a short time.

    I have one ray of hope for all of you, getting older sometimes gives relief from some of the worst migraines..by the time I was in my late 50’s, I had far fewer and less severe headaches, in my 60’s even less, and now in my 70’s I have almost none, and the few I have had are bearable. I think hormones play a part, possibly around certain periods of ones life, but my gr grandmother had bad migraines in her early 70’s and my grandfather in his late 50’s, my daughters, 56 and 48 still have bad ones, the 48 year old is often totally incapacitated so I must say that that the ONLY thing I have found about getting older is that my migraines have gotten to be almost a thing of the past.

  41. Kelly says:

    I have been getting migraines my WHOLE life. My mother can remember me holding my head and crying for hours on end when I was as little as two. I had them every day as a child and an adolescent. My school pictures all have one eye almost closed (my sign outward sign of a migraine). As I age they lessen, but I think the “migraine personality” may be the effect of being in pain so much, not the other way around. If it is just our personalities, why does medications like Imitrex work?

  42. Michela Cimberle says:

    Oliver Sachs, with the immense experience he had on migrain, says very clearly that he found such a variety of personalities amongst his patients that the idea of a migrain personality is just not feasible.
    There are in fact two things that really drive me up the wall when I read or hear comments about migrain: 1st, when they say that we are people with a tendency to hypercontrol and depression. 2nd when they talk about us (I refer to daily headache sufferes in particular) as drug addicts because we take pain killers everyday or almost.
    I feel I’d like to take these people, bang a hammer on their heads everyday, and see if they resist without taking medications and don’t get, after a few monts, a little depressed.
    Sorry for my bad English. I’m Italian, and writing in a hurry, but I hope I’ve made myself understood.

  43. Lis says:

    I’m going to risk being attacked and say, i actually think personality may have something to do with it. i suffered from migraines with and without auras on an almost daily basis for years, i had pretty mcuh all those traits they listed, and in the last three years, my life has calmed down, i have calmed down, my personality has definitely changed, my life is MUCH less stressful, and i have had fewer migraines. I have also begun to notice that these seem to now coincide with my period, which they didn’t before. but i do think that everyone is different, so what is true for some people is not true for others. Hence, i disagree with them putting all chronic migraine victims into one group like that, but i think they may have a point.

  44. mira says:

    This is unfortunate. I firmly believe that my migraines cause stress, much more than the other way around. I get migraines from everything, thunderstorms, eating too much food, not eating enough food, a day of shopping, everything. A stress free day of fun can suddenly turn into an afternoon or evening of pain due to a migraine out of nowhere. It is unfortunate that this study seems to blame the patient. Who wouldn’t be stressed out, discouraged, or anxious after losing a day of school or work due to migraine?

  45. claudia nesbit says:

    After having daily migraine headaches for over 30 years my doctor in Orlando sent me to Chicago to a headache clinic. For the first time I was not treated like a misfit and pain in the ___. the Dr. said that they could help me and that he was sure I could be headache free. After a hospital stay of a week, my medications were changed and my daily headaches are gone. I only have about 2 a month and never to the extreme with vomiting like I had before. And migranal stops them. If your dr. sounds like he/she professes the same ideas that were in the survey, get another! Migraine sufferers have an area in the brain that shows he/she has migraines. It can be seen with an MRI. Most Dr. do not know enough about migraines to know what to do, you have to go to Drs. who only deal with headaches. My trip once a year to Chicago is well worth it and there is support any time I need it. There is help out there and Drs. who understand.

  46. Sara says:

    These are just outdated, crackpot theories thought up by doctors who had no idea what was REALLY going on when migraines were happening but couldnt say “I dont know”…. Doctors dont like to feel inadequate(who does?).
    I have migraines with auras. I have an incredibly high tolerance for physical pain and I have no problems managing stress. I do however avoid harm whenever possible…. uh oh… maybe they are right…. WHO DOESNT AVOID HARM??????

  47. melissa miller says:

    Migraine personality!!!! Infuriating phrase-wait I feel a migraine coming on! Friends describe me as laid back, funny and generous. I am not ambitious, have a little perfectionist steak when it comes to design, but am not particularly neat. My life has been highly stressful since Katrina but not at three years old when my migraines began. I have not had a classic migraine since I started taking Effexor, thanks to Dr. Allen Bott, CA.

  48. melissa miller says:

    To continue I do get bi annual entrenched no pain migraines which actually do cause pain from pressure but nothing like I used to have. I hope this may be a solution to some of you. And shame on those who dismiss this as a personal problem.

  49. joann says:

    This really is getting to be to much, migraine personality, well, i just don’t agree that there is a migraine personality as me, my sister, and two of my three brothers all get migraines, maybe mine are worse than my siblings and nothing seems to work for mine. my doctor has ordered an mri and hopes that he may be able to see something. there are drs out there who do not blame me for these migraines and are really trying to help

  50. The Other Pinball Wizard says:

    I have severe daily migraines, and a family history of depression and migraines (and other things that aren’t relevant), and I didn’t start developing depression symptoms until after I was started on one of the medications, after it was stopped I started getting better depression wise. As to anger management, I was one of those kids who definitely had problems, but I have many good ways to cope, some of which I came up with by myself, but they aren’t original (if you follow). I’m not one of the control freaks of my family, but I do generally try to avoid harm, I’m lazy, I’m stubborn (doesn’t entirely make sense), and I’m more of a mix between follower and leader than either one currently. My life is change.

    Also, I understand that this only applies to people who get migraines without aura. I can tell most of the time when I’m about to have one, but I don’t get the usual symptoms (ie visual/nausea). Generally I can tell, just because it works like that, or I get a smaller headache then the big one comes, or it just hits. I’m not entirely sure if that qualifies as aura or not.

  51. W. says:

    Braden…

    Are you there?

  52. Yvette says:

    I started getting Migraines when I was 22. My first one hit me at work; I was in a great mood was working at a fast food restaurant and having a great time with my co workers…when the spots started.

    Since then I have had migraines hit me when I’ve been watching a movie with my husband, outside playing with my dog, I have even been awakened from a dead sleep by a migraine.

    So, according to this article, would that mean that I am stressing while I am blissfully asleep? I see this as just more BS. This type of so-called study does anger me and leads me to believe that the individuals conducting the study have never had a migraine headache themselves. I would be more trusting of the results of a migraine study that is actually conducted by doctors that are migraine sufferers themselves. Why do we never see those? Why are these studies always by doctors that are trying to make migraine sufferers seem to be “bringing it on themselves”? I find this quite insulting personally.

    I personally have no “trigger” that sets off my migraines. Usually the only warning I get is spots or aura. Over the years (I’m 49 now) I have listened to too many doctors telling me that “there has to be a trigger. They don’t just happen”. I’ve been through all of the redundant tests etc.

    About 5 years ago I found a doctor that paid attention to what I was telling her. That my mother, my sister, my brother, two nieces and a nephew all get migraines. We are not a high strung family or a family that is prone to internalizing. In fact we are just the opposite. We tend to go with the flow and when we are upset or angry you will know it. (So much for that “migraine personality” huh?)

    My doctor has run many tests and the obvious answer is that my migraines are hereditary, but the cause is still a mystery. It is quite possible that it is some kind of genetic defect.

    What that amounts to is that, there is (currently) no cure for my migraines and so we can only treat the pain or use abortive mediations. However, there is a problem with this. I have tried all of the medications on the market and they all have one of three affects on me: #1-They simply don’t work at all; #2; they put me to sleep or #3; they make me horribly ill. Herbal remedies don’t work either as there is no specific time or reason for my headaches. So where is the hope for one such as myself? For now I simply “work around” them as it were.

  53. Steve W says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion, long ago, that my personality has been shaped by an almost daily occurrence over the last 3 decades and more. Sort of like Pavlov’s Dog.

    Sure, do whatever you can to take responsibility for yourself: improve your personality, make life better, etc. But the depression, the sensitivities, pain avoidance part of one’s personality profile comes from high repetition of migraines. IE – the chicken came after the egg.

    Migraineurs suffer. Period. Those that dismiss us do so because they’re sick and tired of that part of our personalities – they can’t, or couldn’t be bothered to relate.

    Right or wrong I have evolved into a social hermit, become an atheist, live alone in a controlled environment, eat a weird diet born from long experience. It’s the migraines that determined this. This is definitely not the real me hidden inside, but I’ve had to come to accept it.

  54. jc says:

    My mother had terrible migraines and it dimmished as she got older. Alot of migraine headaches are hormonal in origin, I believe.

    I have horrible migraines too, and it can make you feel very depressed, to be in pain for long periods of time. “Low self-directedness” because we feel too lousy to be flexible mentally. “Less skilled in coping with pain.”? The person who observed this obviously does not have migraines.

    I try to cope with migraine pain, but i refuse to suffer for more than two days. My doctor gives me steroid pills. They work instantly! The only problem is they cannot be taken more than 2 or 3 times a year. It’s very bad for your bones.

  55. My mother had severe headaches all during my childhood. I thought that they were migraine. She was very meticulous, extremely orderly, wanted a place for every thing and everything in its place. I never saw her disheveled. Her checkbook was always balanced, her house was spotless. She always planned ahead. I have a similar personality, but have never had a headache. I joke (partly) and say, “I don’t get headaches, I give them.” I always had great sympathy for migraine patients and took their stories of severe pain seriously. To me psychosomatic is not a derogatory term. I believe everyone has had symptoms arising from emotional causes. Our language is full of such references and they come from ordinary people, not psychologists or psychiatrists. Some of them are: “I didn’t have the stomach for it.” “He makes me sick.” “Oh, my aching back.” “I am sweating it out.” “He’s a pain in the a…” “That scared the s… out of me.” Who hasn’t blushed with embarrassment? What makes people faint? “Oh, my aching back.” “I was scared s…less.” Pain is pain is pain. It is subjective and only the sufferer knows how bad it is. However, measurement of the spread of electrical current due to sweating in response to painful stimuli gives some objective measurement of how bad the pain is. Some years ago an attempt was made to measure pain. Carbon black was applied to the forehead, heat was applied and measured. When the pain on the forehead equaled the pain the subject was experiencing, a “dol” number (dolor, pain in Latin). Ten dols was the maximum-the pain of migraine, second stage of labor and kidney stone colic. Tic douloreaux (trigeminal neuralgia) was not measured-maybe bursts of pain were too brief, although repetitive to allow comparison?
    Some humans, including some doctors, lack empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.

  56. Meena says:

    I want to share with you all how I actually got rid of my migraine problem. I don’t fit into the personality type mentioned above, and can tolerate quite a lot of pain. What is the persistence thing all about? We all persist with certain things we’re interested in or passionate about.

    At the age of 30, I was expecting my first baby. Until then, I had been happily taking all kinds of tablets like migranil, novalgin, stematil etc. Now that I was pregnant I resolved I would not touch a tablet for the entire span of 9 months, come what may.

    I chanced upon a book titled ‘Quick Headache Relief Without Drugs’. Basically it was a self-help book that explained how to use acupressure. One pair of pressure points at the nape of the neck and another at the web between the thumb & forefinger. You have to find the most tender spot, press for a full minute & let go, repeat the same about 5 times.

    I used only this pressure point at the web between the thumb & forefinger and gave the one on the neck a miss. Believe it or not, the pain began to ebb away after some time. This should be done a few times during the day right from the time when the migraine aura is felt, not after it has fully developed into a full blown episode.

    By this technique, my migraine attacks dropped to 3 times in 9 months compared to earlier once every fortnight. After delivery, I still had periodic attacks.

    But close observation of my own habits made me understand that the triggers were:

    1) Having Chinese food the previous night
    2) Having dinner after 9.00pm or even eating a sweet /chocolate/other tidbit at late hours
    3) Being constipated
    4) Continuously dwelling on some worrying factor without respite

    I changed the first three above habits – now I eat dinner by 7.00pm, and have counseled myself that NOTHING is worth worrying myself sick. What lies in my power to do, I will do and will tackle everyday problems, and if the issues are beyond my power (which means it lies in the hands of someone else & they don’t want to co-operate), I let them go.

    Glad to let you know that now I am completely free except the odd time when someone calls us over for dinner & serves food at 10pm. Then I take a simple tablet like Saridon at night to prevent the attack from precipitating. This may happen once in 6 months at the most.

  57. Ben says:

    Not sure If you know this already or not, but your ‘migraine personality’ link doesn’t go anywhere. It shows a 404: page not found error.

  58. Cat says:

    My personality definitely changes. I get very depressed and angry with life 2 days before a migraine. I can’t talk myself out of it either like I normally can when I get down. It’s a funk and it stays till the migraine hits. I can’t say it’s happened for all of them, but a few or a lot of them.

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