Migraine headaches can a debilitating experience that can occur for several hours to several days depending on the extremity of the attack. What starts as a throbbing or pulsing on one side of the head can transition to a more painful experience by physical activity, light, sound or even physical movement, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Sensitivity to light, sound and even smell could occur, with symptoms such as nausea or vomiting potentially rising as a possibility.
You can see how this could be troublesome at work. Offices are often brightly lit, a constant chatter occurs in conversations around you and don’t forget about whoever decided to microwave fish earlier in the day. Your smartphone can even be a trigger. Combine any with a common migraine and you have a recipe for disaster, for employee and employer.
The Harvard Business Review recently dove into the problem with migraines and how offices can help. Citing limited research, the report said that productivity lost due to migraine costs US employers at least $13 billion annually, with that number likely being higher now since the research is outdated.
On average, an employee that deals with migraines misses around 4.4 workdays per year, and send an additional 11.4 working at a reduced rate, meaning businesses are losing productivity on their dime.
For employers looking to combat the migraine problem in the office, the report analyzed 26 academic articles on migraine in the workplace to see how companies can develop effective strategies to help employees and themselves. They found that creating an educational program around migraines can benefit employees, whether through conferences, email newsletters or other means to help educate employees on how to communicate about their migraine and how lifestyle changes can help migraine management.
Here’s a snippet from the report:
In addition to providing resources for employees who suffer from migraine themselves, these programs also aimed to educate all employees about how serious and debilitating migraine can be, as well as to reduce the stigma associated with taking time off due to migraine attacks. According to a survey of almost 200,000 U.S. workers, only 22% of employees think that migraine is a serious enough condition that it warrants staying home from work. Another study found that employees with migraine tend to feel less secure in their jobs and less confident in their performance at work, leading to presenteeism and in many cases, reduced pay. Educating both employees with migraine and their managers and coworkers on the very real impact of this condition is the first essential step to mitigating the harm it can cause.
As a way to help employees, the report said that many companies raised awareness of migraines by creating programs centered around as a way to help reduce the impact of migraine and benefit productivity. Such measures from studies observed were offering migraine-triggered workers preventative medicines or counseling sessions, which decreased employee absences due to migraine by 53%. In terms of production costs, it decreased reduction by nearly 90% — from €34.5 down to €4.6.
Of course, this can only happen if businesses educate their employees on migraine management and prevention. The report said that offering resources such as “gyms, occupational health services, and general medical screening programs” can be one way that is easily accessible. Creating a positive work environment can also “significantly educate the negative impact of migraine,” per the report.
“Across the studies we looked at, greater job satisfaction, autonomy, and social support from supervisors were all associated with increased productivity for people with migraine, while a stressful work atmosphere was associated with decreased productivity,” it said.
Lastly, changing the physical office can also benefit employees struggling from migraine. Adjusting lights and managing loud noises is a start, while poor air quality — which will definitely change in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — can also help migraine management and decreased productivity from it. Managers can even ask employees to stop wearing strong perfumes or eating at work stations, according to the report.
Struggling with migraine? Try exercise
As little as two-and-a-half hours of exercise a week can reduce your chances of a migraine, according to new research.
The University of Washington will release its findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, which is set to be held in April. The study, which focused on 4,646 people diagnosed with migraine, found that people who received less than two-and-a-half hours of moderate to vigorous exercise per week had increased rates of depression, anxiety and sleep problems.
“Migraine is a disabling condition that affects millions of people in the United States, and yet regular exercise may be an effective way to reduce the frequency and intensity of some migraines,” study author Mason Dyess of the University of Washington in Seattle said in a press release. “Exercise releases natural pain killers called endorphins, helps people sleep better and reduces stress. But if people with migraine are not exercising, they may not be reaping these benefits.”
The study had participants broken into different groups based on their level of exercise. They also filled out questionnaires to gauge what their level of exercise was prior to the study, in addition to their migraine characteristics, sleepy depression, stress and other factors that can contribute to migraines.
Only 5% of people that were placed in the no exercise group reported had low headache frequency (zero to four headaches per month), but nearly half from that group said they had high headache frequency, or 25 or more headache each month. The numbers are startling when compared to the group that exercised the most, where 10% had low headache frequency and 28% had high headache frequency.
Moderate to vigorous exercise can come in many forms including jogging, brisk walks, playing sports, cleaning or bicycling. The World Health Organization recommend people get around 150 minute each week.