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by Kristina De La Torre

Migraines: Push Through the Work Day or Go Home?

Did you know that there are about 38 million people in America who experience some form of migraines? And, did you know that women are disproportionately affected by this condition, with 73% of migraine sufferers being women?

When I first started looking into migraines, I didn’t really know much about the illness and certainly didn’t realize how prevalent it was. I was one of the many that thought migraines were just a harder hitting version of a headache. But now, I understand that migraines are much more than the throbbing pain of a headache. For many migraine sufferers, migraines can actually get in the way of their daily lives and interfere with their productivity at work (1).

Interfering With the Work Day

Along with the discomfort of the symptoms, another thing that makes migraines so difficult is the fact that they tend to happen to people in their late teen years to around their 50s (2). This means that migraines strike during the key years in which people are at their most active. And if they haven’t figured out ways to reduce and manage the condition, it can prevent them from getting work done during their episodes.

For some people, migraines can occur on an occasional or episodic basis, meaning that they occur fewer than 15 times a month. In more extreme cases, migraines can be chronic and occur more than 15 times a month. No matter which group they fall in, migraineurs may be faced with a stressful decision: do I push through the episode and continue working, or do I stop what I’m doing and go home?

In addition, around 45% of migraine sufferers say that they know someone with migraines who has had to leave her job or instead cut back on work hours because of the condition (3).

In a study presented at the 14th Congress of the International Headache Society, a research team led by Dr. Stephen Landy found that presenteeism led to more total lost work hours while absenteeism cost employers more money. Presenteeism is when a person is at work while feeling physically or mentally unwell – in this case, they are going through a migraine attack.

The research focused on a group of 509 subjects, observing them through three consecutive migraine episodes. They found that 64% of the migraines occurred on a workday. About a third of these migraines took place within hours before the start of the workday, while close to 40% of them started at work. Breaking the numbers down even further, the researchers found that 11% of employees decided to stay home instead of going into work, 5% went to work late, and 12% ended up leaving work early due to migraines (4).

Time is Money, Isn't It?

From the money side of things, all this missed or affected time can lead to pretty significant money loss. On average, people who received treatment for migraines had 2.2 more sick days over the course of the year. This comes out to an additional $600 lost, give or take, in wages and benefits.

In addition, studies found that there was an average of 2.4 new claims for short-term disability per 10,000 covered employees due to migraines. This led to an average of 38 lost workdays (5).

From an employer perspective, this is also unfortunate because they don’t know when migraines are going to hit, nor do they know how to help. One research study found that American employers lose between $5.6 billion and $17.2 billion per year because of the absences or reduced productivity that come from migraines (2).

From the findings of Dr. Landy’s study, there comes the realization that people could possibly predict when their migraines are most likely to occur. If migraineurs understand their attacks to some degree, they may be able to prepare for the attacks ahead of time and minimize the effects (4).

For some advice as to how to prevent or minimize headaches, you can check out some tips that the Health By Principle team collected to help the public. Migraines don’t have to take over your life.

There are certain foods that you can avoid, supplements that you can take, and activities you can do that may provide support. By trial and error, it is possible to find out what things to avoid and what things to do in order to take control.






1. Rosenberg, J. (2018). Migraine has impact on both healthcare costs and lost productivity. Retrieved from https://patientsrising.org/migraine-workplace-discrimination/

2. WebMD Health Services. Managing migraines and productivity. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.webmdhealthservices.com/2017/11/28/managing-migraines-and-productivity/

3. New survey reveals concerns about impact of migraine on work productivity. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.researchamerica.org/news-events/new-survey-reveals-concerns-about-impact-migraine-work-productivity

4. Migraines result in lost work productivity and reduced effectiveness. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.mdedge.com/neurology/article/73281/headache-migraine/migraines-result-lost-work-productivity-and-reduced

5. Women with migraines: Addressing discrimination in the workplace. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/migraine-has-impact-on-both-healthcare-costs-and-lost-productivity


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