Headache and migraine: a leading cause of absenteeism

Handb Clin Neurol. 2015:131:447-63. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-62627-1.00025-1.


Migraine and tension-type headache, the two dominant primary headache disorders, are among the most common causes of lost work time. The population impact of both disorders is similar, but the demographics and individual impact differ. Approximately 18% of females and 6% of males have migraine in the general population. Prevalence is highest around age 40, when individuals are at the peak of their work abilities. Headaches cause substantial individual impact on work productivity and employer and societal burden from direct medical costs, lost work time, and underemployment, and, in more severe persistent headache, unemployment. The lost work time costs greatly exceed medical care costs. Chronic daily headache (15 or more headache days per month) represents a widely accepted stage of pain progression that occurs in 2-4% of the population. Treatment of headaches can be acute or preventive. The goals of acute treatment are timely alleviation of pain and associated symptoms without recurrence, the restoring of ability to function, minimizing the use of back-up and rescue medications with minimal adverse events, and providing the best cost-effective management. Migraine-preventive medications are used to decrease future attack frequency, severity, and duration, improving responsiveness to acute treatments, and improving overall function and decreasing disability. Preventing analgesic overuse that leads to chronic daily headache is another goal of using preventive treatment. Preventive medications should be considered in migraine patients reporting either 3-6 or more headache days per month, depending on how headaches impair function.

Keywords: burden; comorbidities; epidemiology; incidence; migraine; prevalence; preventive; progression; remission; tension-type headache.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Headache / epidemiology*
  • Headache / psychology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Migraine Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence