Migraines in workplace a hidden problem

Recent research by the Migraine Trust has revealed that migraines are a vastly misunderstood problem in the UK workplace, with just 5% of sufferers believing that the impact of their migraines is taken seriously.

This comes on top of previous research that showed 1 in 3 sufferers claiming discrimination at work as a result of their condition. Indeed, with eight million people in the UK suffering from migraines, an average of two per month per person, one in five employees in the UK has had to take time off work as a result of a migraine headache.

It is often difficult to manage a full-time job when you suffer from migraines. Firstly, a lot of people still don’t treat migraines with the right attitude and think it is just a bad headache. This is not true; migraine is a neurological disease that can be a huge hindrance to leading a normal life. For example, the unemployment rate for migraine sufferers is 10-20%, which is several times higher than the general population.

Migraines are responsible for the loss of over 18 million working days each year and recent estimates suggest that the cost to the economy is around £1 billion in lost production. Despite these staggering figures, migraine remians a misunderstood and under-managed condition. Migraines themselves can be debilitating, and are more than a simple headache. The origin of a migraine is hard to pinpoint, but widening of the blood vessels in the brain is believed to cause the ‘throbbing’ sensation of a migraine.

The symptoms can have knock-on effects such as nausea and vomiting, and they cannot always be treated by simple painkillers. Many sufferers withdraw to a darkened room in order to escape light and other disturbances.

It is often described as the “hidden disease” as there are no obvious external signs of discomfort and sufferers are well between attacks. In some people attacks can strike at any time and with very little warning.


Migraine is a real medical condition – just like diabetes, epilepsy or asthma

It is not ‘just a headache’

Migraine has been found to have a greater impact on quality of life than conditions such as heart disease and diabetes

The World Health Organisation classifies migraine as the 12th leading cause of disability worldwide among women and 19th overall .A recent study found that people rated migraine pain as worse than root-canal treatment, and many women say that childbirth is less discomforting .

The Migraine Association of Ireland can help. We run a Migraine Corporate Outreach service – an educational programme on migraine management.

The aim of the service is to equip migraineurs with the tools needed to help lower the effect of migraine on their work, but also to provide the employer with training on how to create a ‘migraine-friendly’ workplace – ensuring that profits do not suffer through reduced productivity or decreased job satisfaction amongst employees.

Almost 15% of your workforce could be migraineurs. By registering for our outreach service not only can you help this large group of employees, but you can help your business by decreasing sick days and ensuring high levels of job satisfaction.


Tips for handling Migraine in the workplace:

  • Understand that Migraine is a real disease – not just a bad headache. Migraine sufferers sometimes tend to minimize their Migraines as “just headaches,” not a disease with a range of symptoms that are as debilitating as the pain itself. Migraine is a real medical condition just like diabetes or asthma. Understanding this will better enable you to manage your Migraines and seek effective treatment.
  • Be your best advocate. Talk to a doctor about your Migraines and how best to manage them. There are many effective new treatments specifically for Migraine. The newest class of these are called “triptans.” They relieve Migraine pain quickly and also relieve the other symptoms of Migraine such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Make changes in your work environment that reduce your susceptibility to migraine triggers.
  •  Make changes in your work environment that reduce your susceptibility to Migraine triggers.
  •  Ask co-workers to go easy on perfume and cologne – smells can be powerful triggers; cigarette smoke, too.
  •  Watch your caffeine intake. Small doses of caffeine may help treat a Migraine attack but large doses of caffeine can bring on Migraine.
  •  Be sure to drink a lot of water and don’t skip meals.
  •  Use an anti-glare screen on your computer – straining your eyes can increase your chance of getting a Migraine.
  • Be on the alert for early signs of migraine. Get to know your own Migraine patterns so that you can spot early signs of a Migraine attack. Some people experience irritability, mild pain or nausea that are signals that a Migraine is about to hit. Whenever possible, take your medication early. Dr. Brandes notes that 60% of Migraineurs have prodrome symptoms and can learn to recognize them early.
  • Educate your boss and co-workers about migraine. The Harris-Pfizer survey showed that many people tell their colleagues about their Migraine. This is encouraging because creating understanding and awareness of Migraine and its impact can cultivate support from the people you work with.
  • If Migraine increasingly makes you absent from work, forces you to go home early, or impairs your ability to do your job in any way, your Migraine condition is probably not under control. Tell your doctor if your Migraines are impacting you in your work. Your doctor can work with you on a treatment plan to help you.