Headaches Are Often a Family Affair

One Person's Headache Can Affect the Whole Family, Survey Shows

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 02, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 2, 2005 -- When one person gets a headache, the family may feel the pain, a new survey shows.

The survey was conducted on the web site of the nonprofit National Headache Foundation. More than 300 people took part. Most were women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

The results show that headaches often run in families, with effects rippling through the family like waves on a stone-struck pond.

Headaches Handed Down

Two-thirds of participants said they have a family history of headaches or migraines. Most of those participants (63%) mentioned their mothers as their headache-affected relative. Sisters came in second (29%), followed by fathers (20%).

Almost a quarter of participants reported having headaches for more than 20 years. The same percentage said their headaches began in the last five years.

Families Step Up

The survey included the statement, "I am unable to tend to household chores (cleaning, grocery shopping, making meals, etc." because of headaches.

More than six out of 10 participants agreed with that line.


Many family members pitched in when headaches struck. Nearly two-thirds of participants said that when they had a headache, their spouse or significant other covered more household duties or parenting responsibilities.

However, nearly a quarter of participants said their partners didn't make any extra effort to help. The rest said they were single.

Feeling Guilty

Many participants expressed guilt about how their headaches affected their families.

Asked if they felt that their partner and/or children "feel neglected" during participants' headaches, two-thirds said yes.

Asked if they felt "guilty" during headaches about being "unable to spend time" with their partner and/or children, more than eight out of 10 said yes.

Slightly more than half of participants said they felt that their family didn't understand their headache condition. But more than half said their spouse/significant other understood their headache-related issues and needs.

That may mean that some families weren't very informed about the nature of the headaches, but they knew how to help when one struck.

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SOURCES: for the National Headache Foundation, "Survey Results." News release, National Headache Foundation.
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