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Twitter and Google data suggest migraines peak during the work week

Scientists have found yet another reason to be glad it’s Friday. A new study found that the feeling we all have from time to time -- that the work week gives us a headache -- might not be all in our minds.

Sparked by curiosity about what online behavior could tell them about pain, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School probed search engine queries and Twitter posts that mentioned “migraine” or “headache.” What they found, in a study published online in the journal Cephalalgia, is that headache mentions peaked on weekdays, hitting their high early in the week and receding on Fridays.

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Clas Linnman, an instructor in anesthesia at Boston Children’s who led the work, said that he and his colleagues usually do brain imaging studies of people who suffer migraines and other forms of pain that can alter the brain. But after reading about researchers who used Twitter to track mood disorders, they began to wonder what Googling and tweeting could reveal about when migraines occurred.

First, the researchers analyzed five-and-a-half years of search activity on Google. They found that “migraine” searches seemed to take a break when people did -- occurring far less frequently on the weekends or on Thanksgiving or Memorial Day than on the weekdays. The most migraine searches occurred on Tuesdays and the fewest on Fridays.

It makes sense to Linnman.

“People will get more migraines when they’re stressed,” he said.

Then, they looked at activity on Twitter and found that Monday had the highest number of migraine mentions and Friday the lowest. In a subset of tweets that mentioned “migraine,” the vast majority were by women, a gender breakdown that follows the pattern seen in large clinical studies.

Although the researchers didn’t put each tweet under the microscope, they did note that many of the brief missives included detailed information, such as symptoms, triggers, therapies, and the duration of the attack. Online behavior has been used to track everything from flu outbreaks to social unrest. Now, the researchers think they may provide not only evidence about when disease happens, but also information about factors like stress, eating, and sleeping habits that may play a role in triggering the disease.

Less severe complaints tracked the same general pattern. Tweets mentioning “headaches” also peaked during the work week, between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

With that in mind, take a deep breath: the weekend is near.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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