Migraine, as a condition, is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined1. In the U.S. there are 37 to 39 million migraine sufferers, and up to 1 billion worldwide2,3. This is roughly 12% of the U.S. population, but 18% of American women2,3.
These numbers alone are compelling, but it becomes even more valuable to understand migraine when you look at the impact on employee health and productivity. Migraines tend to occur in adults from their late teens through their 50s – the bulk of an employee’s years in the workforce.
According to one study, American employers lose more than $13 billion each year as a result of 113 million lost workdays due to migraine2. Another study estimates the loss of productivity in the U.S. to be between $5.6 billion and $17.2 billion per year because of missed work. The average migraine sufferer misses two days of work per year. Some who suffer from persistent or chronic migraines work during a migraine attack, which lowers productivity even if they’re still present in the workplace3,4. In the 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study, migraine on its own was found to be the sixth highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability (YLD)5.
Understanding the Problem
A migraine attack is not simply a headache.
Migraine is a recurrent, often lifelong condition, and may be chronic (more than 15 attacks per month) or occasional or episodic (fewer than 15 attacks per month). A migraine attack typically includes a moderate or severe headache (usually focused on one side of the head), nausea, and possibly visual auras or blurring. They are aggravated by physical activity, and increase a sufferer’s sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks may or may not respond to drugs to relieve physical symptoms.
Understanding the Solutions
In addition to seeking medical treatment, there are steps migraine sufferers can take to manage attacks.
- Keep a journal6.
- Record when you have migraine attacks and what, if any, behavior may have been a trigger. For example, document a friend’s birthday party that included staying out later than usual and having a couple drinks. You may need to drink more water afterward, or eat a small meal before bed to make sure a hangover doesn’t become more serious.
- For women, it can be helpful to track your menstrual cycle to see if there’s a correlation between migraine attacks and hormonal changes.
- Once you understand your triggers, manage the ones you can.
- Stick to a consistent meal, sleep and exercise schedule, keeping weekdays and weekends as closely aligned as possible.
- Experiment with more frequent, smaller meals, or snacks between meals to keep blood sugar and hormone levels more even throughout the day.
- Track how much water you drink to make sure you’re getting enough, and how much caffeine you intake to make sure you’re not drinking too much.
Employers can foster a healthy workplace culture that helps migraine sufferers live better and reduce loss of productivity.
- Support employee self-care.
- Encourage managers to respect breaks and meal times, allowing employees to maintain some consistency in their schedules.
- Provide a quiet area where employees can minimize distractions or triggers; for example, a “wellness room” where an employee can dim the lights and relax for a few minutes.
- Provide coaching to help employees manage stress.
- Managing stress and physical signs of tension can go a long way toward avoiding a migraine attack or tension-type headache. One element is reducing muscle tightness that impedes blood circulation, but times of stress are also when it’s most challenging to manage other triggers (e.g., “I’m too busy to eat lunch,” forgetting to drink enough water, forgoing exercise, etc.).
- A migraine attack can also be a delayed response to a high-stress time. Learning to manage stress in the moment and developing resilience amid change can help avoid the “crash” afterward.
At WebMD Health Services we have made it our goal to help people manage stress and mitigate the associated health risks. Our Health and Wellness Coaching ,as well as resilience training through meQuilibrium, provide support for improving mental health and overall well-being.
Migraine is a challenging condition to fully understand and manage, but we can work together to reduce the impact.