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Online Behavior Sheds Light on Migraine and Headache

While some people may think that migraine research involves sophisticated lab equipment and advanced brain scans, a group of researchers based in Boston recently took a different route. They turned to Google and Twitter—which provide information from millions of people across the globe—to see what online activities could tell them about migraine.

After studying Google activity spanning from January 2007 through July 2012, researchers learned that the beginning of the work week is the most common time for people to do a migraine-related Google search, with the most searches appearing at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and dropping to a low point on Fridays. Weekends and holidays also ranked low on the list of migraine-related online searches. The authors noted these findings matched earlier research indicating people experience fewer migraines on days off.

Results for Twitter showed similar findings, with Monday ranking highest for mention of migraine and Friday the least. This, too, is consistent with earlier research that showed migraine attacks peak between 6 and 8 a.m., the researchers said.

Tweets about headache in general also peaked about 7 a.m. during the work the week and at 9:30 a.m. on weekend mornings. Headache was tweeted about significantly more than migraine, and women far outnumbered men in their tweets.

Lead author Clas Linnman of Boston Children’s Hospital, noted the findings were not a surprise to him. “People will get more migraines when they are stressed,” he told, which reported on the study.

A deeper look at the findings showed that typically people searched for information on migraine symptoms, triggers, treatments and duration.

Arthur Elkind, M.D., the president of the NHF Board of Directors, expressed a word of caution about this study’s findings, however.

“Assuming that the individuals suffered from tension-type headache might lead to some error,” he said. “Migraine in many sufferers also occurs on weekend or holidays, which one would consider as periods of relaxation and less stress. They may be unable to search online until the attack has completely abated, and that may be on the weekday.”

The article appeared in a recent issue of Cephalalgia.

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