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?