Migraines: A headache for the workplace

Studies show that 47% of adults worldwide have headache disorders, among them frequent migraine attacks. Migraines can be disruptive to both employees and employers. Although a recent study conducted by Pfizer and Harris Interactive showed that 66% of migraine sufferers continue working despite debilitating symptoms during migraine attacks, productivity is a problem for many sufferers. It’s been estimated that employers spend $13 billion in lost workdays and decreased productivity of migraine sufferers. HR professionals can help their employees and cut company costs by implementing initiatives that focus on awareness and disclosure, manager training, and comfortable environments.

Migraine symptoms
Migraines are defined as painful headaches that are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Women generally experience more migraines than men. The majority of sufferers can have up to one serious attack a month. Each migraine can last anywhere between four hours and three days.

Migraine symptoms include the following:
• Headache that develops from dull to throbbing pain
• Headache shifts from one side of head to another or the front of head
• Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
• Nausea and vomiting
• Stomach or abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
• Blurred vision and dizziness
• Fatigue
• Temperature fluctuation (feeling to warm or too cold)

Migraine attacks can be triggered by the environment, nutrition, and changes in the body. Some of these factors include:

Emotional stress – One of the most common triggers is emotional stress. The release of stress chemicals in the body promotes vascular changes causing migraines to develop. In addition, repressed emotions (i.e. anxiety, fatigue or excitement) surrounding the stress factor increase muscle tension and dilated blood vessels, resulting in migraines.
Sensitivity to chemicals or preservatives in foods – Foods that contain nitrates (i.e. lunch meats and hot dogs) and monosodium glutamate (i.e. Chinese food) trigger about 30% of migraine cases.
Excessive caffeine – Too much caffeine intake or caffeine withdrawal affects blood vessels, often resulting in migraines.
Changes in the weather conditions – Changes in altitude, barometer pressure, and storm fronts also trigger migraines.
Changes in the body – Body cycle changes including menstrual period, sleeping pattern, skipping meals, and excessive fatigue can trigger migraine attacks.

Employer initiatives against migraines
Employers can change their office environment to minimise migraine attacks for their employees by implementing a few simple and low cost solutions. Some of these initiatives include:

Emphasising awareness and open disclosure – Be sure all employees and managers are aware that migraines are serious conditions. They should be given the opportunity to become familiar with migraine symptoms and triggers. Managers should be trained to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with frequent migraine attacks.
Install low-cost ergonomic workstation solutions – Ergonomic devices like anti-glare screens, lighting that’s closer to natural daylight, comfortable desk chairs to ease muscle strain, and ear protection for noisy areas will help prevent migraines.
Provide a low-lit and quiet break room – Provide your employees with plenty of breaks, and a lunchroom that gives them a quiet and low-light area to rest.
Provide healthy alternatives to caffeine – Provide your employees with healthy alternatives to caffeinated beverages, such as natural fruit and vegetable juices or decaffeinated tea and coffee.
Provide plenty of de-stressing exercises and activities – Exercises like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises will help migraine sufferers experience less stress induced attacks.
Provide sufficient water coolers around the office space – Staying hydrated can help keep migraine attacks under control.

The bottom line
Migraines affect close to half of today’s working population. Employees often experience debilitating symptoms that interfere with their jobs and productivity. Employers can help these employees by implementing initiatives that encourage awareness, open disclosure, changes in the office environment, and management training in reasonable accommodations.

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