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Migraine Publicity

There’s no better way to raise awareness of an illness than for famous people to have it. Until recently, famous migraineurs have been identified posthumously or, worse in the public eye, after their celebrity status has fallen to B- or C-list. Things are looking up. In addition to Marcia Cross being the spokesperson for Imitrex, actor Ben Affleck and football (aka soccer) player Fredrik Ljungberg have recently been identified as migraineurs.

While I admire Marcia Cross for being public about her illness, it’s easy to imagine a beautiful, dainty woman with a migraine. It’s totally different to think of strong, masculine men curled up in pain and vomiting. For convincing the general public of the severity of migraine, the men have the advantage of contradicting stereotypes.

Ben Affleck is a household name in the US. Whether or not you agree that he’s masculine, he is a Hollywood star, makes gobs of money and has a beautiful wife. That is, he’s living some version of the American dream. But fame and money can’t keep the stomach-wrenching and horrendous pain of a migraine at bay. (Although it probably does get him painkillers in the ER.)

More powerful is the stark contrast between Fredrik Ljungberg as a rugged, aggressive athlete and as a migraineur. As the World Cup approaches, fear of an attack is ever-present for the football star. One migraine and it’s aftermath, which he says lasts about 10 days, could take him — and his team — out of the tournament. Even a terrific athlete’s physical strength isn’t enough; he can’t “tough it out.”

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A Celebrity in Our Midst: Marcia Cross & Migraine

Desperate Housewives actor Marcia Cross is part of our club. A migraineur since she was a teenager, Ms. Cross has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline (maker of Topamax and Imitrex) to spread the word that migraine isn’t “just a headache.”

The headache movement is gaining momentum! Someday soon society — including health care providers — will understand the debility that headache disorders cause. They have to. We’ve got a celebrity from a massively popular TV show as our spokesperson.

Sharing the stories of non-famous headache sufferers is also important. GSK and iVillage are sponsoring the My-graine Story contest for patients to do just that. There are prizes for the top entries, including a trip to meet Marcia Cross. More important is that participants can release their stories for future use by GSK or iVillage, which will our experiences even more real to non-sufferers. Entries will be accepted until January 31.

A recent Seattle Times story takes a deeper look at what Ms. Cross has to say about her struggles. But I warn you that the article contains an inaccurate stereotype of migraineurs that may make you as angry as it does me.

“Of the more than 28 million Americans who suffer from migraines, three times more women than men are affected — and tightly wound, control-freak Bree would seem to be a ready candidate.”

Does this mean that three times as many women are more high-strung than men? Or that migraineurs are tightly wound control-freaks? The theory of the “migraine personality” has been studied for years, but isn’t widely accepted. My favorite headache resource, Migraine: The Complete Guide, published by the American Council for Headache Education debunks the myth:

“Researchers who have intensively studied the personality makeups of migraineurs have found no evidence of a ‘migraine personality.'”

“Some migraineurs who display these personality traits may have developed them as a reaction to their illness. They may feel a strong need to keep order around them because they never know when their lives will be disrupted by a migraine attack.”

“Some experts suggest that this myth may be perpetuated by physicians who resent the demands of patients who illnesses they can’t successfully treat.” (Page 21)

Finding links for this post, I learned that Ms. Cross recently completed her clinical training to earn a master’s degree in psychology. How cool is that?

[Correction: Ortho-McNeil, not GSK, makes Topamax]