As a nearsighted person with comically thick eyeglass lenses — and a full-time screen-looker to boot — I have long been prone to headaches, but I never had migraines until a couple of years ago. I knew something was different when my headache pulsed from one temple, making me nauseous and sensitive to light. My wife, a longtime migraine sufferer, identified the unpleasant experience right away. Yes, that’s right: I am gay, and I started getting migraines just a year or two after coming out. Coincidence???
According to a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people experience migraines at a rate 58 percent higher than our heterosexual enemies, I mean friends. One in six adults overall experience migraine headaches in their lifetime, but among lesbian, gay, and bi people, that figure jumps to one in three, per the study. Dr. Jason Nagata, the study’s author and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco, speculates that added stress and discrimination may be responsible.
“There might be a higher rate of migraines in LGB people because of discrimination, stigma, or prejudice, which may lead to stress and trigger a migraine,” Nagata told Reuters. “Physicians should be aware that migraines are quite common in LGB individuals and assess for migraine symptoms.” Another potential contributing factor may be the barriers to health care faced by LGB individuals, Nagata said.
If added stress and marginalization are at work here, one might fairly hypothesize that migraine rates should be particularly high in trans individuals and particularly Black trans people, nearly half of whom report being harassed at school and at work. Nagata’s study (which surveyed 10,000 Americans) does not establish causation, and while he presumes some trans individuals were included in such a large group of people, the study did not explicitly consider the link between gender identity and migraines. “Understanding migraine disparities across gender identity is an important area for future research,” he says.