Migraines and work

It is estimated that 1 in 7 people are effected by migraine in the UK and that 43 million days are lost each year from work and education.  It also appears to be more common in women than in men. Under the Equality Act 2010, migraine may be considered a disability and yet patients often report that they do not feel supported by their employer.

Migraine symptoms can be extremely varied but can include problems with vision or flashing lights, head pain or pressure, nausea or vomiting and increased sensitivity to light, noise, movement or smell.  How long they last also varies; they could last for a few hours to a few days in some cases.


What causes Migraines?

Migraine causes are complex and not fully understood; it is thought to be related to a release of chemicals in the brain, which can lead to increased sensitivity and inflammation.  We do know however that there are certain triggers that can cause migraine and those triggers will vary from person to person.

Triggers can include: skipping meals/irregular eating, dehydration, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol or caffeine, hormonal changes, environmental triggers (light or noise for example) and overuse of certain pain medications.

If you suffer from migraines, It can be challenging in itself to work out what your triggers are, so it’s worth keeping a diary or using an app to track your migraines (for example Migraine Buddy  – https://migrainebuddy.com/) to help work out what they might be for you.

Once you have worked out your triggers, you may be able to manage your migraines without medication.  However, if they continue to be troublesome, speaking to your pharmacist initially can often be really helpful. If over-the-counter medication isn’t working for you, speaking to your GP would be advisable.

As with triggers, there are many different ways to manage migraine, and what works for you may be completely different to someone else.  It’s worth really thinking about what bothers you most about your migraines, as well as providing your migraine diary, as this will likely influence what treatment options may be best for you.


Useful resources to help you learn more can be found at the Migraine Trust and the National Migraine Centre


Migraines and work 

Your migraines will likely be impacting most aspects of your life, but particularly so in the workplace.  It can often be helpful to disclose this information to your employer; if they are unaware of your symptoms then they are unable to support you.  In some instances, certain adjustments may not be possible; however ‘reasonable adjustments’ could include: flexibility around working hours/working from home, breaks from your screen/microbreaks, antiglare filters for your screen, office lighting considerations, reducing workload/changing your role…the list could go on and there will likely be some trial and error to see what works for you.


Migraine can be a debilitating and long-term health condition. It’s important to recognize that migraine isn’t just a ‘headache’ and it can have a huge impact on all areas of your life.  The good news is that although there is no set ‘cure’ for migraine, there are lots of successful ways to manage it and lots of new treatments becoming available too.


If you or someone you know has been effected by migraines and wants practical advice and self-management strategies to give the best chance with reasonable adjustments to remain in, or return to, work, please get in touch. Similarly, if you’re an employer or line manager and need help on how to approach situations where you want to do the best for your staff, we have a selection of line manager support services that can help.






Book: Managing your Migraine – Dr Katy Munro (ISBN 978-0-241-51428-3)