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Health Chatter: How to reduce the impact of migraines on work

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Migraines affect around 1 in 7 people globally, and it is estimated that 190,000 migraine attacks occur daily in the UK with people of working age most at risk.

As more than half of migraine sufferers experience debilitating symptoms during an attack, it is understandable that migraines can and do impact people’s work regularly.

The difference between a migraine and a headache

A migraine is similar to a headache, but migraines are more severe, affect one side of the head, and cause a throbbing pain.

Migraines can last 4 – 72 hours if untreated and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as visual disturbances, nausea, or numbness. This is known as a migraine with aura and affects around 10-30% of sufferers.

Migraines are often an inherited condition that stems from an instability in the way the brain processes incoming sensory information.

Reducing the impact of migraines on work

You can still work if you suffer from migraines, but it is likely that your work will be affected by a migraine at some point in your career.

Some people experience multiple migraines each month, whereas others can go for a year or more between episodes.

Be open with your employer:

  • Let your employer know early on that you suffer from migraines.

  • If they are aware, they are better able to support you before and during an attack.

  • Keep the lines of communication open with your manager as the frequency of migraines can change and let them know if you’re likely to need any extra support.

Swot up on sickness policies:

  • Ask about sickness absence policies so that you understand your responsibilities and those of the company, should you need to take time off.

  • It’s better to deal with these issues before you have an attack and are not feeling 100%.

Manage your workplace triggers:

  • Stress is often a major trigger for migraines so it’s important to make sure you maintain a realistic workload.

  • Look for ways to minimise other triggers, for example, by ensuring you have good posture to avoid neck and shoulder tension, or working with your employer to find ways to reduce or remove screen glare if this is a problem for you.

Take care of your health:

  • Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and maintaining a balanced diet are helpful to reduce the risk of migraine.

  • Make time at work to take proper breaks and eat nutritious food, keep a bottle of water on your desk to stay hydrated, and aim to get 7 – 9 hours’ sleep each night.

Both you and your employer can respond to migraine attacks responsibly and effectively if you are both on the same page from the beginning. Migraines are one of the most common long-term disabling conditions. They are more prevalent than diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined, and affect around three times more women than men.

Getting help for your migraines

Although there is no cure, there are treatments that might help manage symptoms of migraines. Many people successfully self-treat using over-the-counter painkillers and by managing triggers.

It is important to talk to your GP if you experience regular migraines – around 5 or more a month – or if your migraines are very severe and over-the-counter painkillers don’t help.

When you visit your GP, it’s a good idea to take with you some information about your migraines including:

  • How often they occur and how long they last for

  • Any other symptoms you experience

  • Any triggers you have noticed

  • How long you’ve been having these symptoms for

  • Family history of headaches or migraine

  • Any self help measures you’ve tried

  • How the migraines are affecting your day to day life

If you haven’t already, it is useful to start a migraine diary to log key details of your migraines such as when they occur, what they feel like, symptoms, any treatments you tried and whether or not they helped.

It’s also useful to note what you were doing, eating and drinking in the 6-8 hours before your migraine started, as well as how much sleep you got and, for women, details of your menstrual cycle.

With this information, your GP will be better equipped to help you find an effective treatment. Our sources and for more information:


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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