They can also hobble employers, according to a story carried by USA Today.
Migraines cost U.S. employers an estimated $13 billion a year because of missed work and reduced productivity, according to the National Headache Foundation.
A study released in June found that severe pain forces migraine sufferers to lose the equivalent of two days of work every month.
And migraine sufferers account for more people, about 13 percent population, than those with asthma, diabetes and coronary heart disease combined.
Advances in the understanding of migraines have led to more effective medicines, but as many as half of the people believed to suffer from migraines never seek medical help, according to the makers of anti-migraine drugs.
"There's just not enough education to recognize a migraine from a regular headache," said Dr. Susan Abu-Shakra, an assistant medical director for drug maker AstraZeneca. "People think if they've tried over-the-counter medications and they haven't worked, there's nothing that can be done for them, and that's not true anymore."
AstraZeneca, which has its U.S. headquarters in Fairfax, Del., makes the No. 2 migraine treatment Zomig, which had $237 million in worldwide sales in 2000.
The company is one of several trying to get migraine sufferers, employers and doctors to recognize how disruptive migraines can be.
AstraZeneca has developed the Migraine Disability Assessment to help people grasp how migraines affect their lives and explain that impact to their doctors.
GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the billion-dollar migraine drug Imitrex, has a similar survey, called the Headache Impact Test.
In June, AstraZeneca launched Migraine Mentors at Work. The program is aimed primarily at educating employees about migraines, how and why they occur, and how to manage them at work.
The first presentation was at the Chicago headquarters of Bank One Corp. About 60 people attended the lunchtime session, which was part of the company's health awareness series.
In addition to educating employees, AstraZeneca hopes to reach companies through its program. "We also want to make employers more aware so they don't balk at covering patients' treatment," Abu-Shakra said.
To view the story in USA Today, click here.
estimated 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, a chronic neurological disorder that can disable people for days at a time.