Migraine Sufferers Better Off Staying Home than Working through the Pain

September 29, 2009

Individuals who go to work with a migraine, with the thought that it is better to “endure the pain” and stay at work, are actually less productive than individuals who stay home because of a migraine, with the level of productivity while suffering from a migraine is impacted by whether the migraine is chronic or episodic, the results of two new studies show.

Individuals who go to work with a migraine, with the thought that it is better to “endure the pain” and stay at work, are actually less productive than individuals who stay home because of a migraine, with the level of productivity while suffering from a migraine is impacted by whether the migraine is chronic or episodic, the results of two new studies show, both of which were presented at the 2009 International Headache Congress in Philadelphia, hosted by the American Headache Society (AHS).

The first study, conducted by the University of Tennessee, found that 1,301 hours of work time were lost due to presenteeism—staying on the job with a migraine—whereas fewer total hours (974) were lost due to absenteeism. Presenteeism was observed with 62% of migraines that occurred during the workday. Among the 28% of migraines that the researchers saw that caused individuals to be absent from work, 5% caused a late arrival, 12% led to individuals leaving work early, and 11% caused a full day of work to be missed.

Results of the second study, conducted by Geisinger Health System, showed that patients who suffered chronic migraine attacks while at work experienced “almost four times more lost productive time than those with episodic migraine.” Specifically, the average productivity time lost was 4.5 hours per week for those suffering from chronic migraine, compared with 1.2 hours per week for those with low frequency episodic migraines. Chronic migraine was defined as 15 or more attacks per month, and episodic migraines were defined as 0-14 migraines per month.

The research conducted by the University of Tennessee examined 509 migraineurs who experienced 1,527 migraine attacks during the course of the study. The results of the study by Geisinger Health System included more than 11,000 individuals who suffered from migraines.

"These findings underscore the need for more funding for migraine research," said Fred Sheftell, MD, AHS president. "Migraine sufferers in the workforce—whether they stay at home because of an attack or try to endure the pain and stay there—cost American business enormous amounts in lost time and lost productivity. Beyond the personal pain and disability that employees endure, it is estimated that migraine costs more than $20 billion a year in direct medical expenses and lost time on the job."