From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Headaches Can Hurt More Than Just the Head

Work productivity was reduced eight percent among medical bill reviewers on days they were experiencing severe headache compared to non-headache days as determined through objective measurement of work output in a recent study.


Pransky et al. enlisted 117 participants to answer a series of questions about headache episode/manifestations and impact on work performance on a daily basis for three months.  Work speed, productivity (bills/hour), output (bills/day), and time on the system (hours/day) were concurrently recorded for each subject to provide objective work activity metrics.  At the end of the evaluation period, the participants were classified by headache type (migraine, other headache, no headache disorder) as determined through examined by neurologists.


There were 5,153 daily self-report workday observations and 648 headache days reported.  Nearly 48% of the participants were diagnosed by study physicians as having migraine disorder with 40% having other headache disorders and 12% having no headache disorder.  Migraineurs had headaches for nearly 15% of the workdays while subjects with other headache had symptoms for 12% of the workdays.  The authors noted that both the prevalence and incidence of headache was higher in this study compared to others – possibly due to selection bias or greater accuracy generated by daily information gathering.


Subjects felt their work activities diminished by 20% on days of severe headache symptoms.  This overestimation may show how well employees have found ways to adapt to their condition according to Pransky et al.  The authors also pointed out that objectively measuring performance had significant challenges even with a limited number of well-defined tasks which may have contributed to inaccurate interpretation of objective data.       



G S Pransky, E Berndt, N Finkelstein, S Verma, and A Agrawal. “Performance Decrements Resulting From Illness in the Workplace: The Effect of Headaches.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 47: 34-40, 2005


This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2005-03-21.