Migraines Reduce Workplace Productivity

Studies Show Drop in Productivity Because of Absenteeism and 'Presenteeism'

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 11, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 11, 2009 -- Whether sufferers stay at home or go to work, migraines are a major, largely unrecognized cause of lost workplace productivity, new research suggests.

In one study, researchers evaluated the impact of migraine attacks on employee productivity by surveying just over 500 people who averaged two to eight migraines per month.

Because most people toughed it out and went to work with migraines, more total work hours were lost as a result of employees who were on the job but less productive than as a result of workers who simply stayed home.

In another study, researchers reported that people with 15 or more migraine attacks per month lost approximately 4.5 hours of work productivity a week.

Both studies were to be presented this week at the 2009 International Headache Congress in Philadelphia, hosted by the American Headache Society.

Fred Sheftell, MD, president of the American Headache Society, says the research highlights the huge economic impact of migraines, which by one recent estimate costs American businesses more than $24 billion annually in direct medical expenditures and lost worker productivity.

"Migraine is more than just a headache and it is more than just pain," he tells WebMD. "The significant disability that goes along with having frequent migraines often goes unrecognized."

Absenteeism and Presenteeism

Memphis, Tenn. neurologist Stephen H. Landy, MD, led the study team that examined migraine-related worker absenteeism and presenteeism.

Presenteeism describes lost productivity among employees who don't call in sick, but whose job performance while at work is impaired for health or other reasons.

Landy and colleagues from the University of Tennessee Medical School and drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline surveyed 509 migraine patients who had an average of three migraine attacks each during workdays over the course of the study.

The patients reported that 11% of workday migraines resulted in a full day of work lost, while 5% led to late arrival at work and 12% led to leaving work early.

Survey respondents stayed at work 62% of the time during migraine episodes, but the researchers estimated that their productivity dropped by an average of 25% during these times.

By their calculation, the migraine sufferers lost a total of 1,301 hours of work while actually present on the job and 974 hours from absenteeism.

Landy tells WebMD that the direct and indirect economic costs of migraines are probably much higher than estimates suggest, because as many as half of people with migraines have not been diagnosed.

"The patient, the health care provider, the employer, and the insurance company all have a stake in improving the diagnosis and treatment of migraine," he says.

A second study examined lost worker productivity among migraine sufferers who had chronic and episodic migraines.

Chronic migraine was defined as having 15 or more days of attacks per month, while episodic migraine was defined as 0 to 15 headaches a month.

More than 11,000 migraine sufferers were surveyed and the researchers reported that those with the most frequent migraine headaches lost nearly four times as many hours of work productivity a week as those with the least frequent headaches (4.5 hours per worker vs. 1.2 hours).

Show Sources


International Headache Congress, Sept. 10-13, 2009, Philadelphia.

Stephen H. Landy, MD, clinical professor of neurology, University of Tennessee Medical School, Memphis; director, Wesley Headache Clinic, Memphis, Tenn.

Fred Sheftell, MD, president, American Headache Society; director, New England Center for Headache, Stamford, Conn.

Thomson Medstat report, Mental Health Law Weekly: "The Cost of Migraines to U.S. Business,"  Aug. 5, 2006.

WebMD Migraine and Headache Guide.

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