Imagine enduring long hours of work along with a throbbing headache. While the sheer thought of experiencing something like this can be dreadful for many, it is a common reality for one in ten people globally, who suffer from migraines.
Despite being highly prevalent, migraine is more than just a headache, it is a chronic neurological condition that is characterised by at least five unilateral headaches every month. These can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. The pain can range from moderate to severe and is often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound along with nausea and vomiting. Besides interfering with day-to-day activities, migraine increases the risk of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, migraine is three times more common in women than men.
If left untreated migraine can lead to its more severe form, chronic migraine, which affects nearly 1-2 per cent of the world’s population. Chronic migraine is when a patient suffers from headaches for more than 15 days a month for three months at a stretch. Of these, at least eight headaches show migraine-like symptoms. Despite this, it is often dismissed as a trivial complaint and remains underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Women suffer more than men
The impact of migraines can be far more damaging for women than men. It is estimated that women have more headaches than men throughout their lives. Headache disorders are the leading cause of disability for women under the age of 50. The prevalence, frequency and disability of attacks tend to be higher in women, with hormonal fluctuations and genetic makeup being major drivers. Due to this disparity, the condition is often disregarded. Further, the casual perception of having an invisible disorder and not being believed makes life difficult for women who suffer from migraines.
Symptoms substantially impact quality of life
The impact of chronic migraine goes beyond the presence of physical symptoms. The debilitating nature of chronic migraine can impact the individual’s quality of life (QoL). The unpredictable and sudden nature of the symptoms can disrupt routine functioning and activities. As affected individuals are often in the age group of 35-59 years, this condition can also negatively affect a person’s relationships, work, education, and finances in variable ways. For example, migraines can act as stumbling blocks for adults who are at the peak of their careers. Since the nature of their symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person, many individuals may need to take some time off from work to cope with them. Their relationships and earning capacity can also be similarly impacted.
Managing migraines at workplaces
Most of the migraine-related productivity loss is caused by the unpredictability of the attack. People are less effective during an attack due to the pain, emotional impact, lack of adequate treatment and comorbidities. Some of the most common migraine triggers can be present across offices, including bright lights, noises, odour, and stress. A poor sense of understanding and knowledge about the disease can also push a person to conceal their disease at work, owing to the stigma attached to the disease.
Employers play a critical role in supporting individuals with migraines and chronic migraines and helping them enhance their productivity. Some of the ways in which it can be done are through workplace education and management programs, creating a migraine-friendly work environment, and optimisation of treatment and advocacy. Some organisations such as the European Migraine and Headache Alliance also recognise certain workplaces with their Migraine Friendly Workplace Stamp depending on the strategies used to ensure the safety and comfort of their employees with migraine.
Building migraine-friendly workplaces
Making offices more hospitable to employee needs allows people living with chronic migraine to be their true selves. The goal lies in helping patients be more comfortable and feel less stigmatised. Additionally, recognising a condition like chronic migraine showcases a company’s commitment towards improving the health and well-being of employees. It also fosters diversity and inclusivity in the workspace, where employees feel cherished. This can also help retain talent and attract new ones.
The author is the medical director, Allergan an AbbVie Company. The views are personal.
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