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Stress Management

Headaches on the Job Prevalent, Painful and Costly


Experiencing headaches at work is not only painful for employees, but can be costly to employers, according to the National Headache Foundation (NHF). In a recent survey of headache sufferers, the NHF found that 99 percent of respondents experience headaches while on the job. Respondents say headaches lead to missed days of work, decreased productivity, inability to concentrate, and changes in mood or behavior.

While half of all survey respondents reported missing anywhere from 1-3 days of work per month because of their headaches, 66 percent of them do not report their headaches to their supervisors. When asked why, most respondents said they feel their supervisor wouldn’t be sympathetic or accommodating or they don’t want to be labeled as "needy" or "whiny." Additionally, 86 percent of respondents said the issue of work-related headaches has never been addressed at their place of employment. Ninety-three percent said that information on work-related headache treatment or prevention is not available through their employer.

"Many who suffer from headaches at work feel their employers or co-workers won’t understand the severity of their condition," said Dr. Nabih Ramadan, a board member of the NHF. "If you experience headaches on the job, talk with your healthcare provider about what triggers your pain to determine the best treatment options. You can also encourage your employer to learn more about headaches and their profound negative impact on workplace performance."

When asked what triggers headaches at work, nearly 70 percent of the respondents attributed their pain to work-related stress. A larger majority also associated bright or florescent lighting, computer glare or eye strain with their headaches.

Additional NHF survey results:

  • 92 percent of respondents said they work outside their home
  • 90 percent of respondents said headaches have affected their performance at work
  • 73 percent of respondents said they take an over-the-counter product when experiencing a headache at the workplace

NHF’s Tips to dealing with headaches at the workplace:

  • Get help. Discuss the connection between your headaches and work with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you determine your treatment options.
  • Track your headaches. Using a headache diary, track your headaches for three months. Download a free headache diary at www.headaches.org and bring your results to your healthcare professional to review and determine whether your headaches are associated with workplace triggers.
    • Eliminate florescent lighting
    • Use a non-glare computer screen
    • Use loose telephone head set instead of phone receiver
    • Take frequent breaks
    • Utilize ergonomically designed work spaces

Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, which are most commonlyexperienced between the ages of 15 and 55. Seventy to eighty percent of sufferers have a family history of migraine. Less than half of all migraine sufferers have received a diagnosis of migraine from their healthcare professional. Migraine is often misdiagnosed as sinus or tension-type headache.

The NHF, founded in 1970, is a non-profit organization which exists to enhance the healthcare of headache sufferers.

For more information on the NHF, visit www.headaches.org.


© 2008 Health Resources Publishing