WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Sept. 11, 2009 -- Whether sufferers stay at home or go to work, migraines
are a major, largely unrecognized cause of lost workplace productivity, new
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.
Both studies were to be presented this week at the 2009 International
Headache Congress in Philadelphia, hosted by the American Headache Society.
Fred Sheftell, MD, president of the American Headache Society, says the
research highlights the huge economic impact of migraines, which by one recent
estimate costs American businesses more than $24 billion annually in direct
medical expenditures and lost worker productivity.
"Migraine is more than just a headache and it is more than just pain," he
tells WebMD. "The significant disability that goes along with having frequent
migraines often goes unrecognized."
Memphis, Tenn. neurologist Stephen H. Landy, MD, led the study team that
examined migraine-related worker absenteeism and presenteeism.
Presenteeism describes lost productivity among employees who don't call in
sick, but whose job performance while at work is impaired for health or other
Landy and colleagues from the University of Tennessee Medical School and
drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline surveyed 509 migraine patients who had an
average of three migraine attacks each during workdays over the course of the
The patients reported that 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
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.
By their calculation, the migraine sufferers lost a total of 1,301 hours of
work while actually present on the job and 974 hours from absenteeism.
Landy tells WebMD that the direct and indirect economic costs of migraines
are probably much higher than estimates suggest, because as many as half of
people with migraines have not been diagnosed.
"The patient, the health care provider, the employer, and the insurance
company all have a stake in improving the diagnosis and treatment of migraine,"
A second study examined lost worker productivity among migraine sufferers
who had chronic and episodic migraines.
Chronic migraine was defined as having 15 or more days of attacks per month,
while episodic migraine was defined as 0 to 15 headaches a month.
More than 11,000 migraine sufferers were surveyed and the researchers
reported that those with the most frequent migraine headaches lost nearly four
times as many hours of work productivity a week as those with the least
frequent headaches (4.5 hours per worker vs. 1.2 hours).
SOURCES:International Headache Congress, Sept. 10-13, 2009, Philadelphia.Stephen H. Landy, MD, clinical professor of neurology, University of
Tennessee Medical School, Memphis; director, Wesley Headache Clinic, Memphis,
Tenn.Fred Sheftell, MD, president, American Headache Society; director, New
England Center for Headache, Stamford, Conn.Thomson Medstat report, Mental Health Law Weekly: "The Cost of Migraines to
U.S. Business," Aug. 5, 2006.WebMD Migraine and Headache Guide.
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