employee health

How migraines affect your employees and your business

Migraines affect 1 in 7 people and are the most common brain disease in the world (1). Not only are they quite common, they are under-recognised, under-diagnosed and under-treated.

Whether sufferers stay at home or go to work, migraines are a major, largely unrecognized cause of lost workplace productivity, new research suggests.

In one study, researchers evaluated the impact of migraine attacks on employee productivity by surveying just over 500 people who averaged two to eight migraines per month.

Because most people toughed it out and went to work with migraines, more total work hours were lost as a result of employees who were on the job but less productive than as a result of workers who simply stayed home.

In another study, researchers reported that people with 15 or more migraine attacks per month lost approximately 4.5 hours of work productivity a week (2).


Absenteeism and Presenteeism

A study lead by Memphis, Tenn. neurologist Stephen H. Landy, MD, examined migraine-related worker absenteeism and presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the lost productivity among employees who don’t call in sick, but whose job performance whilst at work is impaired due to health or other reasons. From the 509 migraine patients surveyed who had an average of three migraine attacks each during workdays over the course of the study, 11% of workday migraines resulted in a full day of work lost, while 5% led to late arrival at work and 12% led to leaving work early.

Survey respondents stayed at work 62% of the time during migraine episodes, but the researchers estimated that their productivity dropped by an average of 25% during these times (2).


What you should do

If a migraine strikes at work and is not treated and resolved quickly, there’s a good chance it will impede your capability to operate at full speed or in some cases, stay at work at all.

Migraines are often perceived as a minor condition by people who don’t get them. One of the best ways to address migraines at work is to avoid one, says Noah Rosen, MD, director of the Headache Centre at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

If you don’t already know, it’s worth considering what your most common migraine triggers are. It is recommended that you keep a log of your headaches, this may help you get a better handle on what increases your chances of a migraine, so you can take the steps required to reduce their frequency or avoid them.


When a Migraine Strikes at Work

Studies suggest that when a migraine strikes, taking medication as soon as the pain starts can help to prevent a headache from getting out of control. So ensure you are prepared and keep medication available to you, in case of an emergency.

“In general, I would recommend headache sufferers keep all of their non-sedating medications at work,” Rosen says. This includes anti-inflammatory and migraine-specific medications.

If possible, retreat to a break room or a quiet space while you’re waiting for the medication to start working.

Just keep the heavy stuff at home, Rosen advises. Any new medication should always be tried first at home, so you know how you react to it.


Tips to avoiding a Migraine at work:

Minimising the impact of work-based triggers may help keep migraines at bay. Try implementing the following tips:

  1. Drink more water. Dehydration is a common migraine trigger.
  2. Limit caffeine. It’s dehydrating and acts as a diuretic, too much caffeine can be a trigger for some people.
  3. Avoid salty foods. You’ll have to drink even more to make up for it.
  4. Call for back-up. In some jobs — such as teaching or working in a call center — it can be tough to take a bathroom break. In that case, you may need to involve your manager.
  5. Don’t let yourself get hungry. Hunger is a common headache trigger. It’s easy to skip lunch or snacks when you’re under pressure to get things done at work. But that’s a mistake. Avoid sugary snacks and instead opt for healthier fare, such as nuts, protein bars, and fruit.
  6. Dim triggers. Does the glare of computer screens, bright lights overhead, or your co-worker’s perfume make your head pound? First try simple methods for minimizing their effects. Put an anti-glare screen protector on your computer screen, ask your supervisor if you can move desks if yours is right under direct, florescent lighting or where there are other triggers — such as smells or loud noises.
  7. Check your set-up. If you have a desk job, the ergonomics of your desk matter. Something as simple as setting your computer screen at an appropriate level so you aren’t looking up or down can help prevent headaches.
  8. Curb job stress. Stress is the most common trigger for migraines. Be mindful of stress-related triggers at work, find ways to minimise them as much as possible. For instance, scheduling tasks one at a time throughout the day instead of trying to do everything at once often helps..
  9. Change the scene. Take a break. Make a short walk, or some other outing, part of your day. Can’t leave the office? Simply stepping away from your desk for short periods may cut tension. “If you spend a significant amount of time at a computer station, spend 15 minutes every two hours away from the computer.
  10. Schedule downtime. When you’re under stress, it’s important to give yourself time to recover.




  1. https://www.wfneurology.org/world-brain-day-2019
  2. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=105523