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Migraines have adverse impact on productivity
Your employees who suffer from migraines may not call in sick, but their productivity probably will be adversely affected, according to a new study.1
"Occupational health managers must recognize this is not something that people are calling in for — they're coming to work with this," says Jennifer Lofland, PharmD, MPH, PHD, the study's lead author and project director for the Department of Health Policy at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "Migraine can have a significant impact in the workplace."
Researchers analyzed data on 325 working adults with a history of migraine attacks and measured the effect of a migraine preventive medication on absenteeism and presenteeism. Half the workers took a topiramate, an anticonvulsant used to prevent migraines, and the other half took a placebo.
Treatment with topiramate had only a small effect on work absenteeism, but had a much greater effect on presenteeism. Use of topiramate resulted in an increase of 9.5 hours of work productivity, from a loss of 14.6 hours before treatment to 5.1 hours during treatment.
The researchers conclude that employers should have treatments available for their employees with migraines that reduce presenteeism and absenteeism in the workplace. Therefore, you'll want to ensure that employee health coverage allows them to obtain not only treatment for acute migraines, but preventative medications, says Lofland.
"If migraine can be effectively managed during the workday, it may lead to cost savings for employers over the long run," says Lofland. "One approach patients may want to consider is taking a preventive medication to help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and potentially lead to more migraine-free days."
The issue is that individuals with migraine are there at work, but they might not be as productive. "Employees might need to close their doors, turn off their lights, or even lay down for a couple hours," says Lofland.
Since migraines primarily affect women, if you have a high percentage of female employees, you might want to designate a lounge area where a worker can take medication and lay down for an hour while it takes effect. "Is there flexibility in the job site so employees can do that? You need to look at all those pieces," says Lofland.
One way to prevent migraine headaches is for the employee to be aware of the possible "triggers," such as food, smells, or light, and then try to avoid them. For example, one employee suffered from migraines that were triggered by strong perfumes. "If a group meeting was held, that employee would sit in a corner far away from the individuals that wore a lot of perfume," says Lofland.
There is a tendency for workers to be reluctant to bring up their history of migraines, fearing colleagues or supervisors will downplay it as "just a headache," adds Lofland. "But they are physically in severe pain and sick, and some people complain of nausea and vomiting," she says.
1. Lofland JH, Gagne JJ, Pizzi LT, et al. Impact of topiramate migraine prophylaxis on workplace productivity: Results from two US randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trials. J Occup Environ Med 2007; 49:252-257.