How migraines impact your work

If you suffer from migraines, you’re not alone. Thirty-eight million Americans experience painful symptoms of migraine headaches. Migraines are still a very misunderstood condition. More than half the people who have migraines never get a diagnosis. A majority of migraine sufferers don’t seek medical care.

Migraines are most common in adults of working age. When migraines happen frequently or at work, they can impact your productivity. Since migraines are still misunderstood, there’s not typically a lot of support at work.

However, a little support from employers can help you work more effectively and manage your migraines.

Talk to your employer

The first step to getting support at work is telling your manager or employer. Since migraines can occur at seemingly random, you may feel uncomfortable talking to your employer. However, keeping them informed about your episodes and their impact on your work can ease the stress of managing it on your own. If your employer needs proof, you can ask your doctor to write a note with a confirmed diagnosis.

Your employer or coworkers may not know you're having a migraine at the time. By talking to them about your condition, they should be more understanding when you tell them you're having a migraine at the moment. They can also put a note in your file to help your work stay informed, should management change.

Check your company's sick policies

Migraines and work can be hard to manage, depending on the severity of your headache. During some migraine attacks, you might need to take time off work. Some migraines can last between four to 72 hours, so taking a short-term sickness absence might be best to recover.

After talking to your employer, you can discuss sick policies. They may have information about managing migraines and work. You should also tread your company’s Equality and Diversity and Health and Safety policies.

FMLA coverage for migraines

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in 1993 and is designed to protect workers who:

  • Become ill
  • Become parents through adoption or birth
  • Have sick family members that need care

FMLA applies to private, local, state, and federal employees that meet the following requirements:

  • The employee has had 12 months of employment in the last seven years.
  • The employee has worked 1,250 hours during those 12 months.
  • The employee has worked with 50 employees, or their employer has 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

FMLA leave is unpaid but ensures you won’t lose your employment status while you’re away. While you’re on leave under the FMLA act, your employer must also maintain your employer-provided health insurance benefits.

You can take the 12 weeks of leave all at once or when needed during episodic migraine attacks. If you are using all your paid time off and need more time, FMLA can be your fallback plan.

How to treat and prevent migraines at work

There is no cure for migraines, but there are ways you can manage the pain.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines

OTC pain medicines can be helpful for mild migraines. These include:

Some doctors recommend caffeine for combating migraines. A study showed that melatonin could potentially help prevent migraines and cluster headaches. Your doctor will have to tell you the right dosage to start.

Prescription medications

Moderate to severe migraines that occur regularly will need to be treated with a stronger medication. Prescription medications that can help reduce the severity of your migraines include:

Lifestyle changes

This type of treatment is more preventative and may not work when you’re experiencing a migraine. These changes may help, but if they’re making your migraines worse or more frequent, talk to your doctor.

  • Regular exercise
  • Dietary changes to avoid foods that trigger your migraines
  • Better sleep habits
  • Practicing yoga and meditation for relaxation

Acupuncture

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), up to 10 sessions of acupuncture can help prevent migraines. They recommend doing this over a five to eight-week period. There still needs to be more research to confirm this.

Vitamins and supplements

If you want to try a natural approach to preventing your migraines, you may turn to supplements. Magnesium and riboflavin have been shown to help ease migraine symptoms.

For more advice on managing your migraines or easing the pain of the symptoms, talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to give you a proper diagnosis, write a note to your employer, and help you manage the attacks.

Keep a migraine journal

Keeping track of migraines and what happens before and after your attacks may help you find what triggers them. Whether it’s certain foods, sleep habits, or stress at work, taking notes can help you avoid it in the future. It’ll also be helpful to know what treatments have helped before so you can get quick relief.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/9/2021
References
AAMC: "A new era for migraine relief."

American Migraine Foundation: "FMLA for Migraine."

Brain & Spine Foundation: "Migraine."

Familydoctor.org: "Migraines."

The Migraine Trust: "Managing migraine at work."