The pain of migraine is not solely physical. Studies show that people suffering from the most severe migraines tend to also suffer financially and socially. It is estimated that close to 10 percent of migraineurs are unemployed; that is nearly twice the unemployment rate in the nation as a whole. When working becomes impossible, or discrimination interferes with the ability to keep a job, it may be necessary to consider applying for disability benefits.

The information below is intended to provide a wider frame of reference for the options that may be available to you, but it will be necessary to coordinate these resources with your medical team. Your health care provider's office can often help guide you through the potential maze of paperwork and regulations surrounding disability benefits, but you may also need to consultant an attorney specializing in disability law.


Does migraine disease qualify as a disability? The answer depends upon the degree to which a migraineur is able to continue a normal life. Generally speaking, to qualify as a disability, migraine disease must prevent an adult from being able to work for at least 12 months. That said, the law offers protection in a variety of forms for those suffering from a disability.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves to protect Americans with disabilities from discrimination under the law, including with regard to employment. ADA protection applies to individuals with a disability that “limits one or more major life activities.” The language of the ADA is such that it can be construed to imply that individuals are protected not only for having a disability, but also for appearing to have a disability.


Not sure if your migraine disease qualifies for disability benefits? Taking the Migraine Disability Assessment Questionnaire (MIDAS) may help you organize your options. This survey is available through The American Council for Headache Education and The National Migraine Association. It may also be administered in your doctor's office.

Title I of the ADA relates to employment. Any employer with 15 or more employees is required to provide disabled people with equal opportunity employment, meaning they must be given the same opportunities as nondisabled people. Disabled people cannot be discriminated against when it comes to being hired or promoted, receiving bonuses, or participating in social functions. If such discrimination against an individual takes place, charges against the employer can be filed.

To qualify for ADA protection, an individual must be considered “qualified.” Can a migraine sufferer still perform the required functions of their job and, if so, can they do so consistently? Migraine pain rarely comes and goes on a schedule, so the question is a difficult one. Note also that all employers of more than 15 people must provide “reasonable accommodation” for their employees.

Is it reasonable to allow an employee to leave the office during a migraine attack? The answer probably depends on a number of factors, such as that person's role in the current project and whether another employee could replace her on a temporary basis, and the size and nature of the company or the specific department within the company. Other workplace accommodations might include replacing fluorescent bulbs in an employee's workspace or providing occasional breaks from the computer screen to reduce eyestrain.

Visit the ADA website for more information on protection in the workplace.

Does migraine qualify as a disability under the ADA?

The answer generally must be derived from a careful study of the individual circumstances. One person may be able to continue working full-time despite the occasional migraine attack, for example, while another may be functionally disabled and unable to hold down a steady job.

Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration has two different programs under which disability money can be disbursed.

  1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This form of coverage is available to people who work and who have coverage under Social Security.

  2. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): This form of coverage is available to people with low income and assets.

Start looking into the possibility of Social Security payments by calling the local Social Security office. You will be asked for documentation of your disease and other information, so plan to have the following at hand before making the call:

  • All relevant medical records from hospitals, doctors, therapists

  • Any and all records of medication and test results

  • Your own employment history, including names, addresses, and job functions

  • Your Social Security number

The Social Security Administration publishes a very informative booklet on how to apply for benefits. Obtain a copy and read it thoroughly.

Other Sources of Information


Studies show an increased prevalence of migraine among veterans who suffer from PTSD. Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be able to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Consult your local Veteran Affairs office for more information.

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act is a piece of United States legislation that provides rights and protections to individuals with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act pertains largely to employment, stating: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by an Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.”

Per this act, the implication for migraine sufferers working in a federally funded capacity is that if a migraine qualified as a disability, he or she could not be discriminated against. Accommodation plans must be developed in order to comply with the law. Charges can be filed against employers who refuse to supply a plan for such accommodation.

Additionally, many states offer disability protection under their laws. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), for example, protects Californians against unlawful harassment and discrimination in the general areas of both housing and employment. Employment discrimination is prohibited on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, sex or sexual orientation, age, pregnancy, childbirth and, of interest here, physical or mental disability. The implication is that if an employer engages in discrimination against anyone with a verified disability, that employer could encounter criminal charges for their actions.

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