Tweets, Google searches may help solve migraine mysteries


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

When migraine or another type of headache strikes, some people turn to … Twitter and Google. And their Tweets and searches are providing a glimpse into how—and when—migraine and headache affect lives.

In a letter to the editor published in the January 2013 issue of Cephalalgia (the journal of the International Headache Society), researchers from Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed Google searches conducted between January 2007 and July 2012. There were more searches for “migraine” on weekdays than on weekends or holidays. A similar pattern was seen in Twitter feeds. In the Google searches, the work week peak came on Tuesday and the low on Friday; on Twitter it was Monday and Friday.

The most common time for migraine Tweets was between 6:00 am and 8:00 am, which the researchers say is a peak time for migraine attacks.

The term “headache” was Tweeted six times more often than “migraine.” Headache Tweets peaked at 7:00 am and 5:00 pm during the work week and 9:30 am on weekend days.

You can’t necessarily tell from a search term why a person is looking for that information. Tweets are different—they often include personal details. In many of the Tweets reviewed in this study,  the writers described frustration, their symptoms, how long they had been plagued by migraine, the medications they were taking, and what may have kicked off their episodes.

This kind of information could be a treasure trove for researchers trying to answer questions about migraine. “An in-depth analysis of time series of Tweets by individual migraineurs may provide information on triggers such as sleep deprivation, stress, and foods,” says Dr. Clas Linnman, lead author of the study and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Do you Tweet about migraine or another health issue? If so, what do you get by doing it?


  1. sara lewis

    I am a migraines patient since long time and surfing is out of question for me because it cause blurriness in my vision however what usually help me is to empty my stomach through deliberate vomit or try to sleep through a light sleeping pills … nothing else.

  2. Glade Maer

    Of course, with the many things you can learn about anything over the internet, you will surely find remedies for your migraines and other health problems as well.

  3. Margaret

    Yoga does not help anyone who suffers from migraine, I know that, I was a sufferer. There is a link between migraine and a hole in the heart, PFO I believe is what it was called. I suffered from migraine since I was a child, the only thing that cured me was surgery to repair the hole. I dont have migraine attacks now.

  4. Ginny Bishop

    I can’t believe you haven’t even mentioned acupuncture. Some years ago, when I was suffering from almost daily debilitating migraines, I was desperate enough to try acupuncture. At the time, it seemed “way out there” and it wasn’t covered by my insurance, but it was the only thing I hadn’t tried. After ten sessions, I went for over a year completely migraine-free. This treatment changed my life! It is more accepted now, but for some reason mainline medical experts still disregard it. I’m glad I didn’t.

    • Jon

      Ginny – in fairness to those who disregard acupuncture, some practitioners really don’t help their cause. Having sat through an explanation of how acupuncture “targets the meridians of energy in order to properly align them” and having been told that you know it’s working if you feel shooting pains* because this shows you’ve “connected to the energy source”, I can easily see why anyone who’s ever studied the human body would discard this as complete quackery. However, there are more valid, if somewhat less fancy-sounding, explanations of why acupuncture does work – and I really wish practitioners would just stick to those!

      (*Incidentally, I suspect that if the patient feels shooting pains, this actually just means you’ve hit a nerve…)

    • Avatar
      P.J. Skerrett

      Ginny — The post didn’t talk about any treatments for migraine. It focused on how researchers are using search information and Tweets to study migraine. Just so you know, one of our special health reports, “Headaches: Relieving and preventing migraine and other headaches,” definitely covers the use of acupuncture for treating migraine and other types of headache.

  5. Medical Inflation Device

    I will sometimes tweet about migraines. My reasoning is often to explain why I may disappear from online conversations for a day or so…

  6. Sydney CBD Dentist

    Millions of people from all over the world suffer from migraines on a regular basis; it is interesting to note that some of these persistent headaches are actually dental migraine symptoms.

  7. Arto Asadurian

    I know someone who uses online surfing as a sort of diversion so he could not entertain the migraine or headache pain. Headache has many causes, one of them is the teeth grinding. If a person does teeth grinding more often he must see his dentist for the relief.

  8. genegeek

    I will sometimes tweet about migraines. My reasoning is often to explain why I may disappear from online conversations for a day or so.

  9. Adam

    That is a very interesting story. It would be interesting to compare this with lifestyle studies to see if certain stressors, or other lifestyle factors correlate with this data.

  10. Ricy Mardona

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