Migraine disease is a chronic and debilitating condition that affects over 39 million people in the U.S. It is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Despite its prevalence and debilitating symptoms, migraines are often misunderstood and stigmatized. This stigma and lack of awareness not only affects individuals in their personal lives but also significantly impacts their ability to participate fully in the workforce.
Understanding Migraine Disease
Migraine is not just a severe headache. It is a neurological disorder that causes a variety of symptoms that can affect the entire body, most common symptoms are throbbing or pulsating pain, but they are often accompanied by other symptoms:
• Sensitivity to light/sound/scent/taste/touch
• Neck/jaw/shoulder/sinus pain
• Dizziness and vertigo
• Gastrointestinal issues
• Cognitive issues like brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory, and word-finding issues
• Autonomic symptoms like chills or hot flashes and sinus pressure
• Stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis, loss of vision, and impaired consciousness
Migraine attacks can last for hours or even days, making it challenging for individuals to perform their daily activities.
The Stigma Surrounding Migraine Disease
Despite being a valid and extensive medical condition, migraine disease is often stigmatized in the workplace and the personal lives of those affected. This leads to misconceptions and wrongful judgments. Here are some reasons why this stigma lingers:
Lack of Awareness– Many people, including family, friends, employers, and coworkers, have limited knowledge about migraines and often presume them to be a common headache. This lack of awareness contributes to a lack of empathy towards those affected and the appearance of the disease being unimportant.
Gender Stereotypes– Migraine is 3 to 4x more prevalent in women than men. Women with migraine face stigma due to gender, which can lead to late or misdiagnosis. Almost 70% of people with migraine do not seek medical advice, most of that percentage being women. This can affect a woman’s personal life and work, with 95% of women with migraine feeling unable to perform their roles due to migraine disease.
Men are susceptible to migraine and migraine stigma too. In the U.S., there are over 9 million men living with migraine disease. Shockingly, the disease increases men’s chance of heart attacks by 42%.
Unseen Disease– Migraines are not visible to others. Family, employers, and coworkers likely could not tell if one was impacted by a migraine, as most symptoms are invisible. This may cause others to doubt the severity of their condition. Especially if that person lives in a culture with the concept of working through the pain. Remember, a migraine is often thought of as no more than a headache to many.
Impact on the Workforce
The stigma surrounding migraine disease has a profound impact on the lives of individuals in the workforce. Even more, it can take a significant toll on your workplace if it is not addressed. Migraine affects 1 in every 6 people in nearly every workplace. It also costs U.S. businesses over $78 billion a year! Here are more ways it can impact your workforce:
Loss in Productivity– Migraines can significantly hinder one’s ability to concentrate, process thoughts clearly, and perform tasks efficiently. Think about how difficult it would be to look at a computer or operate equipment when your vision and sensitivity to light are impaired. This loss of productivity can lead to poor job performance and increased workloads. Losses can cost employers up to 2x as much as absenteeism costs.
Increased Absenteeism– Severe migraines may force individuals to take frequent leaves of absence due to 90% of people being unable to work during a migraine attack. For every 1 million people in Europe, an estimated 400,000 days of work and school are lost due to migraine. This can create a strain in the workplace and greatly impacts the individual’s work life with perceptions of being unreliable, damaging their professional growth.
Safety Risks & Concerns– Employees who operate vehicles, heavy machinery, and other safety sensitive roles could increase risk of injury to themselves or others if impacted by migraine disease. They could experience symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, cognitive impairment, and visual disturbances, which could lead to an accident in the workplace.
Employees with migraine are also more likely to experience other conditions like mental health disorders, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and obesity.
How Employers Can Support
To create a more inclusive work environment for employees battling migraines, employers must take proactive steps to address the stigma, create awareness, and provide employees with flexible work arrangements and accommodations. Not only with this give a return on investment and improve absenteeism, productivity, and overall productivity, but it will also increase employee satisfaction. Start by:
Raising Awareness– Encourage workplace education to raise awareness about migraine disease among employers, managers, and colleagues. This will help eliminate misconceptions and cultivate empathy and support for those affected.
Providing Flexible Work Arrangements– Provide employees with migraine disease with flexible work arrangements: remote work options, flexible schedules, or an adjusted workload during and after migraine attacks.
More Accommodations– Most accommodations are not costly to employers and are effective. Here are some additional accommodations:
• Noise management
• Fragrance-free workspaces
• Managing lights with lenses, and filters or removing fluorescent lights
• Meditation or “Time-Out” Rooms
Migraine disease significantly impacts those involved but also affects those that surround them. Understanding how migraine disease affects individuals is one of the first steps to breaking the stigma, reducing the impact on the workplace, and helping support the impacted person.
Watch our webinar The Dangerous, Debilitating Impact of Migraine Disease, where our expert panel discuss the hidden intricacies of this condition, suffered by 1 in 6, and the leading cause of disability under the age of 50.
Charli Pedersen works for Axiom Medical as their Content Marketing Specialist. She has her bachelor’s degree in English, Professional and Technical Writing and previous experience with creating content for businesses and non-profit organizations.