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Migraines and Your Job

How to keep your career on track when you have migraines.
By
WebMD Feature

Getting migraine headaches is tough. Managing a migraine at work can be even trickier.

Can you keep migraines at bay while you're on the job? What can you do if one strikes during working hours? How much do you have to tell your boss about it, and could it hurt your career?

WebMD spoke with migraine and workplace experts about that. Here's their advice:

Headache Prevention on the Job

If a migraine strikes at work and is not treated and resolved quickly enough, there's a good chance it will hamper your ability to operate at full speed or in some cases, stay at work at all.

Migraines are often seen as a minor condition by people who don't get them. If your coworkers have never suffered a migraine, they might be clueless about what you're going through.

One of the best ways to address migraines at work is to avoid one, says Noah Rosen, MD, director of the Headache Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

If you don't already know, it's worth figuring out what your most common migraine triggers are. Keeping a log of your headaches may help you get a better handle on what increases the chances of a migraine coming on, so you can take steps to reduce their frequency or avoid them.

When a Migraine Strikes at Work

Rosen says studies suggest that when a migraine strikes, taking medication as soon as the pain starts can help to prevent a headache from getting out of control. So be prepared.

"In general, I would recommend headache sufferers keep all of their non-sedating medications at work," Rosen says. This includes anti-inflammatory and migraine-specific medications.

If possible, retreat to a break room or a quiet space while you're waiting for the medication to start working.

Just keep the heavy stuff at home, Rosen advises. Narcotic pain relievers and some anti-nausea medications can be quite sedating. And any new medication should always be tried first at home, so you know how you react to it.

10 Ways to Curb Headache Triggers at Work

Many jobs -- whether because of the nature of the responsibilities or the work environment itself -- can worsen headaches in someone with a migraine condition.

Minimizing the impact of work-based triggers may help keep migraines at bay. Here are tips:

  1. Drink more water. Dehydration is a common migraine trigger.
  2. Limit caffeine. It's dehydrating and acts as a diuretic. Plus, too much caffeine can be a trigger for some people.
  3. Avoid salty foods. You'll have to drink even more to make up for it.
  4. Call for back-up. In some jobs -- such as teaching or working in a call center -- it can be tough to take a bathroom break. In that case, you may need to involve your manager. "This is one circumstance where working with the administrator is important," Rosen says. Perhaps they can assign someone to cover for a few minutes.
  5. Don't let yourself get hungry. Hunger is a common headache trigger. It's easy to skip lunch or snacks when you're under pressure to get things done at work. But that's a mistake. "Be sure to get that lunch break and make sure you have additional snacks to eat," Rosen says. Avoid sugary snacks and instead opt for healthier fare, such as nuts, protein bars, and fruit.
  6. Dim triggers. Do the glare of computer screens, bright lights overhead, or your co-worker's perfume make your head pound? First try simple methods for minimizing their effects, says Curtis W. Reisinger, PhD, corporate director of the employee assistance program with the New York-based Physicians Resource Network. Put an anti-glare screen protector on your computer screen. Ask your supervisor if you can move to another cubicle if yours is right under direct, florescent lighting or where there are other triggers -- such as smells or loud noises.
  7. Check your set-up. If you have a desk job, the ergonomics of your desk matter. Something as simple as setting your computer screen at an appropriate level so you aren't looking up or down can help prevent headaches.
  8. Curb job stress. Stress is the most common trigger for migraines, Rosen says. So be mindful of stress-related triggers at work, and find ways to minimize them as much as possible. For instance, scheduling tasks one at a time throughout the day instead of trying to do everything at once often helps, Rosen says.
  9. Change the scene. Take a break. Make a short walk, or some other outing, part of your day. A quick manicure or shoulder massage at a local salon at lunch can help you relax. Can't leave the office? Simply stepping away from your desk for short periods may cut tension. "If you spend a significant amount of time at a computer station, spend 15 minutes every two hours away from the computer," Rosen suggests.
  10. Schedule downtime. When you're under stress, it's important to give yourself time to recover. "Take vacations when they're due," Reisinger says. "You're better off with mini-vacations than storing it all up."

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