11 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Suffering from Migraine Attacks
Serena Williams, Kristin Chenoweth and more have shared their experiences with the debilitating headaches
The 23-time Grand Slam winner, 38, has struggled with “debilitating, throbbing pain” from periodic migraine attacks since her twenties.
“Migraine isn’t a knee injury — it’s something you can’t physically see,” Williams told PEOPLE in August. “You can’t really say, ‘Oh, Dad, I have a migraine. I’m going to stop playing.’ People are like, ‘I don’t see swelling. I don’t see bruising. Tough it out.’ I got used to playing through the pain.”
Until March, Williams said her migraine attacks were infrequent enough that she could handle them. But when Williams, husband Alexis Ohanian and their nearly 3-year-old daughter Olympia went into quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic, they became almost daily occurrences.
“I was dealing with a lot of stress and unknown factors and things that I wasn’t used to, and so I think that was contributing to my migraine attacks and making them more frequent,” the athlete explained.
The actress and singer, 52, experienced her first migraine at 25 while rehearsing for a show in a room with fluorescent lights.
“I started getting what I call ‘kaleidoscope eyes,’” Chenoweth said at the 2019 World Migraine Summit. “Then, I started getting really nauseous and a pounding headache.”
Though she admits migraine attacks have caused her “to lose some time” in her life, she says dealing with them has become easier as she discovered her triggers.
“[Doctors] told me to avoid sugar and caffeine,” she explained at the summit. “The past two years, I really have cut way, way back in that department and I have noticed a difference. The dragon that I keep chasing is sleep. I’m always in a different time zone or on a plane. None of these things are conducive to a person who has a migraine. That’s been my biggest challenge, sleep.”
The NFL hall of famer, 47, was just 9 years old when he had his first migraine attack after football practice.
"I remember my heart started pounding because I thought, at the time, I was going to go blind," he explained at the 2019 World Migraine Summit.
“That headache was so different than any headache I’ve ever had at the time,” he said. “It was so debilitating, so intense. I didn’t know what had happened at the time or if we would come back or if that was a one time deal.”
The migraine attacks were so painful and frequent that Davis remembers having suicidal thoughts. Eventually doctors diagnosed him, and correlated the migraine attacks with playing football.
Of course, Davis stuck with the game. In 1997, he famously played with a migraine during Super Bowl XXXII when his team, the Denver Broncos, took home the championship title.
The superstar, 54, was forced to postpone a series of tour dates in 2008 due to a “mystery illness” — which was later revealed to be vestibular migraines. Although it doesn’t always cause a headache, the condition affects people who have previously experienced traditional migraine attacks and causes a sensation of extreme vertigo, loss of balance and even vomiting.
“Janet wanted very much to resume her tour so as not to disappoint her fans, but she continued to suffer from vertigo and could not perform,” Jackson’s manager Kenneth Crear said in a statement at the time, then adding that Jackson was "feeling much better" and "ready to hit the road again.”
Although they became less frequent as she got older, the Friends star, 57, had migraine attacks as a child, telling PEOPLE in 1996 that “a day of excitement and eating would always end in a horrible headache.”
Kudrow’s father, Dr. Lee Kudrow, studied cluster headaches — a type of frequent, intense headaches that occur on one side of the head — after suffering from them since he was a medical student. Her siblings also suffered from migraine attacks and her brother David is now a neurologist with a specialty in headache medicine.
“Headaches are hereditary,” the senior Kudrow told PEOPLE. “I passed them on to my children.”
Kardashian, 36, recently opened up about having migraine attacks since she was just 12, telling PEOPLE she experienced "completely debilitating" pain that would cause her to "have to cancel [her] whole day."
"I vividly remember how I felt, but mainly I remember how everyone told me that I wasn't feeling what I felt. People would always say, 'Oh, it's just a headache,'" Khloe told Prevention. "That's the stigma with migraines, that it's just a headache. And being 12 years old, and at that time no one in my family experienced migraines, I was embarrassed to say when I was suffering from one."
As of late, Kardashian says the stress of quarantining during COVID-19 made the migraine attacks more frequent.
"During the pandemic, you're alone with your kid and you have no real support system," she told Prevention. "[True] is just 2, so it's not like she's going to remember, 'My mom was a bad mom and laid on the floor while I was playing.' But there have been times when I'm in her playroom and have a migraine, and I will just lay on the floor. She'll say, 'Mommy, play,' and I can't explain to her that I can't. I just put guilt on myself. I think any new mom would do that."
The CNN host, 41, gets ocular migraine attacks “once or twice a year,” and the condition once forced her to leave set in the middle of her show.
“I got my first migraine on my first day of work in TV in 2001… it was debilitating,” Baldwin told PEOPLE in Jan. 2019.
“Since then, they’ve gotten ‘better.’ They’re ocular meaning I know they come on because my vision instantly starts to blur (try being under tons of TV lights and staring into a TelePrompter — yikes),” Baldwin continued.
The American Migraine Foundation defines the term ocular migraine as a number of migraine “subtypes that are characterized by a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars.”
McCain, 66, opened up to PEOPLE in 2009 about downplaying the pain from her migraine attacks for years — including during late husband John McCain’s 2008 presidential run.
“Whenever I had those huge dark glasses on, that was always a sign,” she says. “Sunglasses are a migraine sufferer’s best friend.”
The Hills star, 35, told PEOPLE in 2019 that she’s had headaches since she was a “little girl,” that developed over time into frequent migraine attacks.
“I feel like as I’ve gotten older, and especially around stressful times, they’ll get worse, because it’s like my body’s way of reacting to any kind of stress or anxiety,” she continued. “The interesting thing is that when I was pregnant I didn’t get them, so I think it’s a little bit of a hormonal thing. And now they vary in strength, but they come all too often.”
With son Sonny, 3, Port added that there’s “a lot of quality time that I’ve missed or not been able to enjoy because I’ve been hit with a migraine.”
The supermodel, 40, and husband Tom Brady, 43, famously follow a strict diet — but she shared that cutting refined sugar had some side effects, including migraine.
“I stopped all sugar. Completely,” Bundchen told PEOPLE in 2018. “For the first two weeks, I had the worst migraines I’ve ever had in my life. It was a big shock to my body, but it was a three-month kind of cleanse.”
The NASCAR racer, 38, started experiencing migraine attacks in recent years following her exhausting races.
“My series of triggers seem to be after a race on Sunday nights through Tuesday, so they’re kind of about a 48-hour window. They’re not necessarily every weekend, but when they come on, they’re awful,” Patrick told PEOPLE in 2017. “There’s plenty of Tuesday mornings when I get up and I feel awful, I feel nauseous and I’m on the couch all day. It’s a good opportunity to use my experience to help people understand how bad they are.”