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Celebrities With Migraines: 13 Famous Faces With The Misunderstood Condition

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 05/ 2/2012 8:23 am

Thirty-six million Americans suffer from migraines, a very painful type of headache that is often characterized by a throbbing pain in one side of the head, sensitivity to light and sound, and even nausea and vomiting. While the exact mechanism behind migraines is still debated, those who suffer can often identify headache triggers, such as hormonal changes (migraines are three times more common in women than men), foods, stress and changes in sleep pattern, reports the Mayo Clinic.

And this painful condition is more common than you'd think. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, more than 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from migraines -- nearly one in four households has someone with the condition.

Among those one in 10 are, inevitably, famous faces, including Janet Jackson, Cindy McCain and Troy Aikman. And for a condition that still battles a sharp stigma (one 2010 study, for instance, found that people with migraines report feeling more rejected and ridiculed than people with other neurological conditions, such as stroke or Parkinson's), these voices are bringing awareness to an all-too-common, yet misunderstood, condition. Read on, then tell us your migraine story in the comments below.

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  • Marcia Cross

    The "Desperate Housewives" actress has been suffering from migraines since she was 14. <br><br> "You become very isolated," she told <em>People</em> magazine about <a href=",,20144626,00.html" target="_hplink">how the pain affected her relationships</a>. "You feel underwater and out of touch." <br><br> But educating herself through the years has allowed her to gain control over the problem. <br><br> "I've learned a lot about migraines," <a href="" target="_hplink">she told</a>, "like what things trigger mine and how to avoid them." <br><br> She has also identified <a href="" target="_hplink">food triggers</a> (like red wine and oranges) to avoid and de-stresses with exercise, such as yoga and hiking. <br><br> "In the past, it was a 'go home, shut the blinds, and you lost the day' thing," <a href=",,20411052,00.html" target="_hplink">she told <em>Health</em> magazine</a> a few years ago. "But I've found that if you don't eat that chocolate bar or have that red wine, you can really reduce them."

  • Lisa Kudrow

    As a child, the "Friends" star suffered from excruciating migraines -- when the California family traveled to Disneyland, for instance, "a day of excitement and eating would always end in a horrible headache," Kudrow <a href=",,20142390,00.html" target="_hplink">once told <em>People</em> magazine.</a> <br><br> According to the Mayo Clinic, as many as <a href="" target="_hplink">90 percent of people</a> with migraines have a family history of the condition. Kudrow's father, Dr. Lee Kudrow, suffered from cluster headaches and, <a href=",,20142390,00.html" target="_hplink">according to <em>People</em></a>, actually devoted much of his medical career to being a headache specialist.

  • Cindy McCain

    As the wife of Arizona senator and one-time presidential candidate John McCain, Cindy McCain has lived, by all accounts, a public life. But <a href="" target="_hplink">she told <em>The New Yorker</em></a> in 2009 that she has long suffered what she calls "a silent struggle" with migraines. <br><br> "I've missed part of my life. I've missed my children in many ways," <a href="" target="_hplink">she told the publication</a>. "I've made every important event, but there're times I've been throwing up out the car window." <br><br> After years of being dismissed by doctors as just another "neurotic" woman, McCain told <em>Neurology Now</em> that <a href="" target="_hplink">she wasn't accurately diagnosed</a> until age 40. <br><br> Now she is speaking out about the condition in hopes of raising awareness and securing funding for future research. "This is a legitimate problem and a legitimate disability for us," she said at a <a href="" target="_hplink">2009 conference of the American Headache Society</a>, according to an ABC report. <br><br> <em>The New Yorker</em> reports that McCain has identified headache triggers, and tried <a href="" target="_hplink">numerous treatments options</a> such as acupuncture, massage, biofeedback and medication to stave off attacks.

  • Ben Affleck

    While <a href="" target="_hplink">three out of four migraine sufferers</a> in the United States are women, there are still millions of men who can count themselves as migraineurs -- including Ben Affleck. <br><br> According to news reports, the actor <a href=",,1199021,00.html" target="_hplink">was treated for a migraine headache</a> in a Boston-area emergency room on Memorial Day 2006. <br><br> And in 2010, the <em>New York Post</em> reported that <a href="" target="_hplink">a migraine sidelined Affleck</a> from participating in the World Series of Poker "Ante Up for Africa" tournament in Las Vegas.

  • Kristin Chenoweth

    In 2009, after winning an Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, Chenoweth had to put the celebration on hold to cope with a migraine attack, <a href="" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported at the time</a>. <br><br> Earlier this year, the actress told <em>Prevention</em> magazine that <a href="" target="_hplink">she gets Botox to cope with the pain</a>. "When I was 35, I was having debilitating migraines about once a week," she said in the interview. Hesitant to try the treatment at first, her doctor convinced her that it could help. "So I let her do it, and I haven't had a full-blown headache since." <br><br> A report published in April found that the main ingredient in <a href="" target="_hplink">Botox might provide some relief</a> for people with chronic migraines, according to Reuters. But the study's lead researcher told Reuters Health that the effect, while it exists, is still "really, really modest."

  • Janet Jackson

    In 2008, Jackson's publicists revealed in a statement that the singer suffers from a "rare form of migraine called vestibular migraine or migraine-associated vertigo," <a href="" target="_hplink">WebMD reported</a>. A particularly bad bout kept her from touring <a href="" target="_hplink">for three weeks</a>, according to <em>Rolling Stone</em>. <br><br> Vestibular migraines are a type of migraine where dizziness is the main symptom, instead of head pain, <a href="" target="_hplink">Scientific American explains</a>. Symtoms can include a sensation of spinning, vomiting, ear ringing and loss of coordination, <a href="" target="_hplink"> reports</a>.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    The 7'2" basketball star <a href=",,20084882,00.html" target="_hplink">told <em>People</em> magazine</a> that he suffered his first migraine attack at age 15 -- the pain continued on and off every few years, returning first in college and then again when he joined the pros. <br><br> Through the years, Abdul-Jabbar <a href=",,20084882,00.html" target="_hplink">said he has tried</a> acupuncture, yoga, various diet changes and biofeedback to help control his migraines. <br><br> "Fortunately, in my 14-year pro career I've only missed two or three games during the regular season due to migraines, and I've never missed a play-off game," <a href=",,20084882,00.html" target="_hplink">he told <em>People</em> in 1983</a>. <br><br> <a href="" target="_hplink">In a 1985 interview with the <em>Los Angeles Times</em></a>, Abdul-Jabbar shared that he suffered six migraines in nine days during the previous season's championship series. <br><br> "What makes it so difficult is that people think you are just having a regular headache," he told the <em>LA Times</em>. "You just can't explain them to someone who doesn't have them."

  • Michele Bachmann

    Last July, the then presidential hopeful's migraines started a <a href="" target="_hplink">media firestorm</a>, with critics questioning whether the condition could incapacitate her from carrying out the stressful duties of a presidency. <br><br> "Let me be abundantly clear -- my ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines and will not affect my ability to serve as commander in chief," Bachmann said in a statement released by her campaign, <a href="" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported at the time</a>.

  • Loretta Lynn

    The performer <a href=" Lynn migraines&f=false" target="_hplink">revealed in her book</a> <em>"Coal Miner's Daughter"</em> that she's suffered from migraines since age 17. She wrote: <br><br> <blockquote>Some people believe migraines are caused by tensions in your job or in your marriage. But I feel like mine are just a family weakness. I remember my Daddy had 'em. He'd pace the floor just holding his head and sobbing. Now it was starting to catch up with me. I could feel this ache coming on, and unless I'd lie own and sleep, it would turn into this headache that would make me just pass out.</blockquote>

  • Serena Williams

    It took <a href="" target="_hplink">five years after her first attack</a> at age 18 for the tennis star to be diagnosed with menstrual migraines. <br><br> "I'd never heard of them before," <a href="" target="_hplink">she told <em>Newsweek</em> in 2005</a>. "All this time, I thought it was a regular migraine." <br><br> Between 60 and 70 percent of female migraine sufferers find that attacks are timed to their menstrual cycles, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to WebMD</a>, earning these headaches the name of menstrual migraines. And in 2005, <em>Newsweek</em> reported that Williams <a href="" target="_hplink">joined the newly formed National Menstrual Migraine Coalition</a> (part of the <a href="" target="_hplink">National Headache Foundation</a>) as a spokesperson. <br><br> <a href="" target="_hplink">To keep her headaches under control</a>, Williams takes medication, tries to avoid salt and stays away from bright lights when an attack is coming on.

  • Carly Simon

    In 2009, the singer <a href="" target="_hplink">opened up to <em>Neurology Now</em></a> about her struggle with migraines, sharing that she tries to avoid alcohol, which seems to trigger attacks.

  • Jeff Tweedy

    Lead singer and guitarist for the band Wilco, <a href="" target="_hplink">Tweedy told <em>The New York Times</em></a> that he's suffered from headaches his whole life -- and so did his mother and sister. <br><br> "My own theory is that, in my case, my migraines were connected to my mood disorders," he told the publication in 2008. <br><br> And he's come to understand the <a href="" target="_hplink">stigma of migraines</a> firsthand. <br><br> "Even being a migraine sufferer I understand that instinct to not believe it when someone says, 'I have a migraine,'"<a href="" target="_hplink"> he told the <em>Times</em></a>. "Obviously I have a ton of compassion but its such a strange thing to try to communicate."

  • Troy Aikman

    The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback has suffered from migraines since childhood -- and he believes his father's smoking was likely a trigger, the <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Washington Post</a></em> reported. (His sister also had migraines.) <br><br> In 2007, <a href="" target="_hplink">he partnered with the migraine drug Imitrex</a> as a spokesperson, hoping to raise awareness that migraine isn't just a "women's disease."