5 facts about migraines that every employer should know

Femme avec une migraine

It can sometimes be challenging to work when you suffer from a chronic disease. A migraine falls into this category of illness due to its inconsistent and unpredictable nature. Too often, it gets confused with a run-of-the-mill headache and this creates a lot of stigma for people who suffer from it. It's the main culprit behind a fair share of work absences and, as an employer, you’re perhaps wondering... why?

What do you need to know about migraines? What can you do to help your employees who suffer from this illness feel better at work? You’ll see that it doesn’t have to be that complicated!

An important distinction

A migraine is nothing like a run-of-the-mill headache. People who experience migraines do get headaches, but that’s only part of the picture.

The pain is a lot more intense for starters. It can be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • intense fatigue
  • dizziness
  • sound and light sensitivity, etc.

It’s important to make a clear distinction. Immerse yourself in the mind of a migraine sufferer while reading this and learn how to support them with these five facts about their condition.

1. What is a migraine?

A migraine is indeed a special type of headache. This neurological phenomenon is due to inflammation that happens in blood vessels in the head and nearby nerves. Pain is located on one or both sides and lasts anywhere from four hours to several days.

Did you know...
  • 14% of the global population suffer from migraines at some point in their lifetime. In Canada, 8.3% of people have received an official migraine diagnosis.
  • Women are three times more likely than men to experience migraines and those most affected are between ages 30 and 49.

2. What causes it?

Hard to say... As health specialists are unable to identify the exact cause of this phenomenon. Indeed, migraine is a complex neurological issue and its ins and outs are not yet fully known. However, there are some identifiable factors:

  • stress, strong emotions
  • fatigue
  • hormonal changes
  • hungry or skipping meals
  • alcohol consumption
  • taking certain foods or medications
  • loud noise or intense light, etc.

Being aware of possible migraine triggers can undoubtedly help you to avoid them. It’s important to listen...

3. What are the symptoms?

Extreme headache, nausea, vomiting, vision changes... Migraine symptoms are varied but quite acute.

The pain is sometimes pounding, sometimes throbbing, but always there. The headache gets worse with body movement, in the presence of bright lights, loud noises and strong smells.

Most people who experience a migraine must stop whatever they’re doing during the episode. Lying down in a dark and quiet room can help while you wait for it to pass...

Some symptoms can appear before the onset of a headache: appetite loss, nausea, mood swings... not to mention an aura. Approximately 1 in 4 people report changes to their vision or speech just before a migraine hits. This is called an aura. Its most common form includes white spots in your vision with wavy edges but can also manifest itself in other ways. It’s debilitating, no matter what symptoms appear.

4. How to treat them?

Although the medical world has not yet found the magic cure to treat this disease, some medications can help to alleviate symptoms.

To get rid of a mild migraine, acetylsalicylic acid (e.g., Aspirin), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen) may be enough.

To stop a moderate to severe migraine, certain classes of medication can be effective, including triptans, ergotamine, anti-nausea medication, butalbital and other analgesics.

Medication can be a temporary fix. However, it may also cause nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness and, less often, cardiovascular issues in some people. Many trials and adjustments are sometimes required.

Keeping a diary can be an interesting solution for frequent migraines sufferers. To be recorded: frequency, duration and intensity. This will make it easier for medical staff to recommend the appropriate treatment.

Tips in the event of an episode
  • lay down in a dark, quiet room
  • place a cold compress on the forehead
  • massage the scalp
  • put pressure on the temples

5. How to prevent them?

A person’s lifestyle is a significant factor in the frequency and severity of migraines. Here are some tips to reduce them:

  • avoid triggers (stress, insomnia, etc.)
  • have a healthy, balanced diet
  • don’t skip meals
  • drink enough water
  • moderate alcohol consumption
  • learn how to manage your stress
  • avoid burnout
  • set time aside for rest and relaxation
  • regular exercise
  • no smoking, etc.

Prevention is definitely better than cure... Especially since a full recovery remains unlikely in this situation.

What can you do as an employer?

Firstly, no need to take the lead... Your sick employees are doing that already. Keep a cool head and try to find solutions. Your first instinct is likely to support your employees and validate their condition. Consider wishing them a fast recovery, let them know you’re in their corner and want to help in whatever way you can. Share the weight of the burden they’ve been carrying around... Few people enjoy taking time off work for a health reason.

Then, guide your employees. Several ideas have crossed your mind... Including the EAP? You’re on the right track! The Employee Assistance Program can really and truly be a great help.

Also advise them about your organization’s group insurance coverage. Among other things, recommend therapeutic approaches such as alternative medicine, or physical therapy such as yoga. Mention the availability of paramedical care like physiotherapy or occupational therapy.

Finally, demonstrate your understanding of the disease and what it represents. Be receptive to their situation, whatever strategy you use. In the end, migraine symptoms have a significant impact on the quality of life of those people who suffer from it. Fortunately, you can help them to improve that.

Hommes qui discutent

Comfort your employees!

A soothing salve does exist: your kindness.

You now know how to better manage migraine attacks.