How to handle a migraine attack in the workplace

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Contributed by Dr. Anil. R, Consultant Neurologist, Columbia Asia hospital, Hebbal

5 July 2019: Whether or not we acknowledge it, everyone knows how unhealthy lifestyle we all are almost trapped in. Unhealthy eating habits, insufficient physical exercise, over dependency on gadgets, lack of sleep and immeasurable amount of stress characterize a typical living style of almost the entire population these days. The most visible impact that this lifestyle has had can be witnessed in the form of diseases. The lifestyle patterns have increased the names, numbers, frequency as well as the intensity of diseases.

Headache has become the word used as commonly as sleep or rather more. These days the number of people who frequently get sound sleep is way less than that of those who frequently get headaches. One major form of headache is migraine that affects many people currently.

Migraine is but a headache of extremely varying intensity which results in to extreme sensitivity, pain and nausea. Migraine is often accompanied by:

  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Throbbing pain usually on one side
  • Pulsing sensation
  • Nausea and vomiting

Migraine attacks can last for anything from hours to days and the severe pain can interfere largely with the daily activities of the person. Going through a migraine attack is never easy but getting one during work hours at your work place can be significantly torturing and tricking. But it is very important to resolve migraine at the earliest if it strikes at work as otherwise it will greatly impact your work speed, your performance and sometimes even hinder your day entirely by not letting you stay at your workplace. One major concern with migraine is that it is usually seen as a minor condition by people who have not gone through it themselves.

If a person is hit by migraine at home, he/she can still manage to turn off the lights, get on the bed and lie in silence with eyes closed until the feeling subsides. But during work hours at office, it is usually not possible and one has to deal with the pain unless you can leave the office. Majority of those who suffer from migraines state that they cannot operate well enough during a migraine attack and since pain is invisible, it is often hard for the workmates to imagine the extent of the severe pain.

Below are a few tips that can help you tackle migraine at work if you get one given by Dr. Anil. R, Consultant Neurologist, Columbia Asia hospital, Hebbal.

Manage your stress level: Stress has been a major trigger for migraines and a hectic day combined with deadlines, peer pressure, work load, difficult supervisors sometimes at work often leads to stress and in turn to migraines.

Speak up to your reporting head: Migraine certainly affects your performance at work; therefore, it becomes important that you let your boss stay aware of your condition so they can understand your situation instead of questioning your work. Carrying a note from your doctor for your head or HR (human resources) will also help.

Be prepared: You must have a plan if in case you are likely to have a headache. Have a plan ready regarding your work in the office as well as your commute back home.

Breakaway: Take a break for few minutes through the day in intervals to meditate and relax your mind and take in fresh air.

Lower the triggers: When migraine hits, minimize the lights, lessen the noise and get away from strong smells if possible.

Reduce eyestrain: Also turn down the brightness on your system’s screen. Put away your phone for some time.

Find your relaxing corner: Locate an unused conference room if possible or a space where you can lie down in the dark till the migraine subsides.

Have a supportive friend by your side: It is always advised to have a friend or a supportive co-worker who help you when migraine hits you.

Keep an anti-migraine kit: You know your needs the best. Keep an anti-migraine kit handy at work containing pain-releavers, anti-nausea tablets, cold pack and whatever else helps you manage your migraine.

Stock up on snacks: Make sure water and some healthy snacks are always within your reach to avoid dehydration and hunger. Keep your protein and sugar levels steady through the day.

Small steps of care are always a boon instead of unaware panicking when you are hit by a migraine attack. So make sure you are well informed about your body, your symptoms, triggers and pacifiers.

Some of the common migraine triggers are: 

  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Hormonal medications
  • Sensory stimuli like bright lights and sun glare
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Excessive physical exertion
  • Weather changes
  • Foods like aged cheeses and salty and processed foods
  • Food additives including the sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Drinks including alcohol, especially wine, and too much caffeine
  • Stress
  • Strong smells
  • Skipping meals or fasting