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A man poses with a headache gesture.

A migraine is so much more than a bad headache. Migraines are a neurological condition that can severely impair all aspects of life, including your ability to work.

Are migraines considered a permanent disability? The answer is yes. But winning a long-term disability claim for migraines can be challenging. Here is what you should know about qualifying for long-term disability benefits due to migraines.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a disabling headache characterized by recurrent attacks of moderate to severe pain in the head. Physical activity, movement, and even coughing or sneezing can worsen the pain. Sensitivity to light, noise, and smells is common during a migraine attack. Some people feel nauseated or vomit due to migraine.

Migraine attacks can last from 4 to 72 hours. After a migraine attack comes the “migraine hangover” which leaves a person feeling exhausted, confused, and unable to concentrate for up to a few days.

How is a migraine diagnosed?

A migraine is a primary headache disorder, meaning that it isn’t caused by another medical condition. Cluster headache and tenson-type headache (“TTH”) are other types of primary headaches. A secondary headache, on the other hand, is a symptom of another health issue, such as a brain tumor or injury to the head/neck.

There is no blood test or imaging study to diagnose migraines. Instead, primary headache disorders require clinical diagnosis, meaning your doctor will need to get a thorough medical history of your migraines and your migraine-related symptoms. You will be asked questions about severity, frequency, triggers, and family history.

While there is no objective medical test to diagnose migraines, your doctor will likely order blood tests and imaging tests (CT scan, MRI, etc.) to rule out any other causes.

Is migraine a disability in Canada?

Absolutely. Migraines can seriously impair a person’s ability to work. In fact, migraine is a leading cause of absenteeism (missed work days) in Canada.

Migraine is also a leading cause of presenteeism, which is being at work but not being able to function. Those who suffer from chronic migraine (the most severe form of migraine) have 15 days or more of headache per month. People who experience frequent recurring migraines have to use up all their sick days and vacation days due to migraines, then have no choice but to attend work while struggling through the next migraine attack.

Migraine disability claims

Migraines and headache disorders are “invisible illnesses.” Because there is no objective test to diagnose a migraine, insurance companies are often quick to deny short-term disability and long-term disability benefit claims.

The good news is that there are several ways to strengthen your disability benefits claim (or to shore up your claim if your application has already been denied by the insurance company):

Keep track of the frequency and severity of your migraines.

Keep notes about how migraines are impacting your ability to work.

  • Clear, detailed notes about dates and number of days of work missed, how your symptoms impact you while at work, and any limitations you experience at work as a result of migraine attacks can provide extremely helpful information for your doctor—and serve as evidence to support your disability claims.

Ensure proper diagnosis.

  • Report frequency, severity, and all of your symptoms to your doctor.

  • Attend all recommended testing to rule out other issues or conditions (e.g., blood work, CT scan, MRI).

  • See a specialist such as a neurologist if you are referred to one. A neurologist can confirm the diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

Explore treatment options.

  • There is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for migraines. It will likely take some trial and error to figure out what (if anything) works for you. Common treatment options include medication to prevent migraines, medication to reduce pain/nausea, avoiding triggers, and injections.

  • Monitor the results of treatments in your migraine journal. Make notes about what works and what doesn’t.

  • If you don’t explore treatment options, the insurance company will very likely deny your benefits claim. They will say there is not enough evidence to show what you did treat your migraines to allow you to continue working.

Continue to regularly follow up with your doctor and any other health care professionals.

  • Tell your doctor how your ability to work is being impacted by migraine attacks. Your doctor may have recommendations to address work difficulties, and the medical records created at these appointments will provide evidence to support your disability claim.

Explore accommodation at work.

  • Talk to your employer about options such as reduced hours or days of work. Changing duties or positions within the company may also be a viable option.

  • Trying all reasonable options to continue working will go a long way in your disability benefits claim. If you don’t try options to continue working, the insurance company will seize on that as a reason to deny your benefits claim.

  • Supportive letters from your employer and/or co-workers can also provide evidence of your work difficulties and limitations at work.

Get trusted legal advice for your migraine disability claim

From affecting your personal relationships to making your work life difficult, recurring migraines can seriously affect all areas of your life. Ludwar Law Firm has helped many claimants with denied headache disability claims in Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton.

Our experienced lawyers give clients confidence so that they can focus on your life while we handle the insurance company. If you need help with a migraine disability claim in Alberta or Saskatchewan, reach out to a member of our team now, and we will make the process hassle-free for you.


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