Each year upwards of 90% of the U.S. population will feel headache pain and 13% will suffer from a migraine. Nearly 30 million Americans have migraines. Researchers from Johns Hopkins, after pooling results from 21 studies, involving 622,381 men and women, have found that migraine headaches are associated with more than double the likelihood of the most common kind of stroke, those occurring when blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off by the buildup of plaque or a blood clot.
The National Headache Association estimates that headaches cost up to $17 billion dollars in absenteeism, lost productivity, and medical expenses each year. Ninety percent of respondents to a NHA 2008 survey indicated that headaches affected their work performance. Migraines are triggered by many different issues such as stress, environmental factors (e.g. lighting and eye strain), depression, or certain foods and some medications. One major factor in the development of migraines is lack of sleep.
Are shift workers more likely to suffer from migraines?
According to the NHF, migraine characteristics include:
1. Pain typically on one side of the head
2. Pain has a pulsating or throbbing quality
3. Moderate to intense pain affecting daily activities
4. Attacks last four to 72 hours, sometimes longer
5. Exertion such as climbing stairs makes headache worse
And migraines are also associated with at least one of the following:
1. Nausea or vomiting
2. Sensitivity to light or sound
Shift workers have the following unique challenges that are directly associated with migraines:
1. Higher rates of sleep disturbances : most sleep less than six hours per night.
2. More shift workers smoke: smoking leads to disturbed sleep.
3. Consuming too much caffeine : 34% of shift workers report that they drink 4 or more cups or cans of caffeinated drinks on the night shift.
4. Stress levels are high : shift workers experienced more conflict on average than those who work standard daytime schedules.
5. Getting good nutrition is difficult: too much sugar, alcohol, or junk food has been linked to migraines.
It would seem likely that shift workers are susceptible to migraines, although no conclusive studies have been done on this. But, it is certainly something to pay attention to.
For example, shift workers might want to be aware of the warning signs of migraines which might be an indicator of other, more serious health issues. Approximately 20% of migraine sufferers experience aura, a warning of a future migraine. They may see wavy lines, dots or flashing lights and blind spots from twenty minutes to one hour before the actual onset of migraine. Some people have a tingling in their arm or face or difficulty speaking. The Johns Hopkins researchers mentioned in the first paragraph above found that those migraine sufferers who experience aura have 2.5 times the level of risk of stroke (for women, the risk was 2.9 times higher).
The researchers suggest that the prevention and treatment options for migraines range from smoking cessation and taking anti-blood pressure or blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin. They also recommended that women with migraines might consider stopping the use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. Of course, anyone thinking they might be suffering from migraines should talk with their heath care provider and ask them specific questions about symptoms and treatment. Issues such as nutritional and sleep practices, interaction of medications, smoking cessation, and stress reducers are all good topics to discuss.