Metaphorical use of "headache" and "migraine" in media: A longitudinal study of 1.3 million articles in major publications

Pengfei Zhang, Advika Ventrapragada, Robert E Shapiro, Thien Phu Do

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Stigmatization and trivialization of headache confront individuals with headache disorders, but the degree to which media may contribute is incompletely understood.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to quantify the frequency of disparaging metaphorical use of the words "headache" and "migraine" in articles and summaries of major publications.

METHODS: This longitudinal study analyzed a dataset of 1.3 million articles and summaries written by authors and editors of 38 major publications. Data cover written publications from 1998 up to 2017. The use of the words "headache" or "migraine" in articles and summaries by major publications was rated by two authors (P.Z. and A.V.) as either "metaphorical" or "medical" based on their contextual application. Pearson's chi-squared test was applied to assess differences in the frequency of metaphorical use of "headache" in comparison to "migraine." Secondary outcomes were the source of publication and time of publication.

RESULTS: A total of 6195 and 740 articles included the words "headache" or "migraine," respectively; 7100 sentences contained the word "headache" and 1652 sentences contained the word "migraine." Among a random sample of 1000 sentences with the word "headache," there was a metaphorical use in 492 (49.2% [95% CI, 46.1-52.3]) sentences. Among a random sample of 1000 sentences with the word "migraine," there was a metaphorical use in 45 (4.5% [95% CI, 3.2-5.8]) sentences. The five most prevalent sources were CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post. There was an overall increase in the number of articles containing the words "headache" or "migraine" from database inception until analysis (1998 up to 2017). The database included no articles containing either "headache" or "migraine" in 1998; in 2016, this number was 1480 articles.

CONCLUSIONS: In this longitudinal study, major publications applied a metaphorical use of "headache" about half of the time. The metaphorical use of "headache" is 11-fold greater than the metaphorical use of "migraine" in the same media sample. These depictions may contribute to the trivialization of headache and the stigmatization of individuals with headache disorders. Studies with individuals affected by headache disorders are needed to clarify potential influences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHeadache
Volume64
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)172-178
Number of pages7
ISSN0017-8748
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Keywords

  • Headache Disorders/complications
  • Headache/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Migraine Disorders/epidemiology
  • Research Design
  • stigma
  • migraine
  • healthcare utilization
  • barriers to care
  • advocacy
  • headache

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