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Avoid adding to minority stress when treating headache in LGBTQIA+ patients



Headache and headache associated with mood disorders are common among individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community, but preconceptions should be abandoned in a diverse population fearful that their gender identity or sexual orientation will lead to mistreatment.

It is “important not to assume that just because someone is a member of the LGBTQ+ community they will need psychiatric or behavioral health support,” said Maya A. Marzouk, PhD, division of behavioral medicine and clinical psychology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Instead, it is useful not to make any assumptions. There is a potential association between minority status and headache susceptibility, but it is more reasonable initially to address the diagnosis and treatment of headache in LGBTQIA+ patients the same way it is addressed in any other patient, Dr. Marzouk said at the 2023 Scottsdale Headache Symposium.

The acronym to describe individuals with gender identities different from male and female and sexual orientations not limited to heterosexuality has been in almost constant evolution over several decades. An addition sign that accompanies LGBTQIA refers to those who do not identify with any letters in the acronym (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual).

Take steps to normalize the interaction

Although many clinicians have been acclimated to these diverse identifies, not all have risen above preconceptions that become obstacles to effective care, according to Dr. Marzouk. In the context of headache management, Dr. Marzouk emphasized the need to be respectful of the range of gender identities and sexual orientations and to take steps to normalize the interaction.

For example, Dr. Marzouk advised using gender-neutral language at the start of each patient encounter and ask open-ended questions about gender, sexual identify, and pronouns to avoid patient discomfort from misidentification. In turn, the clinicians can establish their own gender identification and preferred pronouns to reinforce the idea that doing so is normal behavior.

This change in approach should be made “for all patients. Do not try to guess who needs them,” she said.

Intake forms and office atmosphere, such as signs and images, should also be welcoming to all patients, she added. Rather than trying to make adjustments for a LGBTQIA+ visit, Dr. Marzouk said a uniform approach helps normalize the experience of LGBTQIA+ patients without singling them out.

Despite the effort to provide an open and welcoming environment, Dr. Marzouk acknowledged that mistakes are difficult to avoid for those with limited experience serving the LGBTQIA+ community. When mistakes are made, she advised clinicians to immediately acknowledge the mistake and ask for guidance from the patient.

The potential offense is making the patient feel “other” or abnormal.

A higher rate of migraine

The interactions that LBGTQIA+ patients have with others outside their community is a possible explanation for the substantial rate of headache as well as headache with comorbid psychiatric disorders in this population.

In a survey published in 2020, the rate of migraine was 19.7% in heterosexual women, 26.7% in lesbians, and 36.8% in bisexual women. Among men, it rose from 9.8% in heterosexuals to 14.8% in gays and then to 22.8% in bisexuals.

Migraine relative to headache is also associated with more mood disorders among LGBTQIA+ individuals. In a study published in 2022, LGBTQIA+ patients with migraine relative to those with headache were more likely to have depression (46.4% vs. 22.3%; P < .001), anxiety (72.1% vs. 51.6%; P < .001), and posttraumatic stress disorder (37.5% vs. 21.4%; P < .001).


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