Migraines: Affecting Women and Their Businesses

Migraines: Affecting Women and Their Businesses

A group of women business owners, concerned about the impact migraines have on the work force, has joined health-related agencies in promoting June as National Migraine Awareness Month.

Women in Public Policy (WIPP), which is comprised of more than a million small business operators, has launched its own Migraine Awareness Project.

“We want to call attention to this as a serious business issue,” explained WIPP president and co-founder Barbara Kasoff. “I don’t think the general public has an understanding of how incapacitating migraines can be – and the loss in productivity that can result from them.”

“Our focus is women in business,” Kasoff said.  “But we strongly encourage anyone out there with questions or concerns about this debilitating condition to sign on and participate.”

Participating in the discussion will be Andrew Charles, MD, director of the Headache Research and Treatment Program at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

While there is no cure for migraines, doctors and sufferers alike see prompt diagnosis and treatment as the No. 1 weapon against the condition.

“Migraines beget migraines,” Charles told National Public Radio recently. “The more of them you have, the more vulnerable you are to having another.”

Women More Likely to Have Migraines

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that three out of every four migraine sufferers are women, who miss work an average of 5.5 days a year as a result.  An estimated 18 percent of all women experience migraines at some point during their lives, compared with 6 percent of the male population.

Those figures are mirrored in military personnel returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five returning veterans report suffering migraines.

Migraine triggers among vets have been traced to two sources: the stress of living in a war zone 24/7; and actually suffering a concussion from proximity to IED blasts and other explosions.

Eighteen percent of women experiencing depression and anxiety while serving a tour in a war zone report migraines upon their return, versus 6 percent of the men.

Worse Than a Bad Headache

Patients and doctors emphasize that migraines are far worse than ‘a bad headache.’

“Migraines are not even in the same class,” said Mary Cantando, a WIPP member and CEO of The Woman’s Advantage, a firm helping women start their own businesses.

“I could hardly even make the call to cancel my meetings,” she says. “I used to tell people, ‘If my house caught on fire, I would not get out of bed.’

Cantando considers herself fortunate because her migraines lasted only six months between onset, following a hysterectomy a decade ago, and effective treatment.  During that period she suffered from migraines as many as three days a week “six hours at a clip.”

While being able to work from her home in Raleigh, N.C., was an advantage –- she could lie down when stricken –- her job also necessitated road travel.

She recalls being hit by a migraine just two miles from home on one trip.

“I couldn’t even make it the last few miles,” she says. “I had to pull over and lie down on the seat for a couple of hours.”

Lost Productivity

In Charlotte,N.C., Jerri-Lynn Newell had her first migraine nearly 40 years ago while in elementary school. She was told she was “too young (for migraines), that it was impossible for me to have those killer headaches,” which sometimes lasted two days.

She vividly remembers as a sophomore in high school going “totally blind for a couple of minutes.”

Newell, who works part-time as a fulfillment analyst for Coca-Cola, says the attacks now occur only about once a month.  Occasionally she has had to go home, but more often has tried to “muddle through and not miss work.”

Barbara Kasoff said she hears that all too often from WIPP members.

They “power through” a meeting or presentation, said Kasoff, who has owned and managed telecommunications companies in the U.S.and Australia.

“But you are not on top of your game in those situations.”

Mary Cantando of Raleigh agrees.

“I’ve lost thousands of dollars in terms of productivity time,” she said.  “And I certainly never made any business decisions while in that condition.”

Relief came for Cantando after she and her doctor closely reviewed her detailed diary of everyday activities and habits.  Sugar intake and even the occasional glass of wine with dinner proved to be the culprits in her case.

As soon as she experiences the light-headedness that precedes her migraines, Jeri-Lynn Newell finds that prescribed medication, along with walking or other exercise, arrests the onset.

Newell and Cantando both urge early diagnosis for anyone suffering.

“Make the time and financial investment, and understand that there are doctors who can help,” Cantando stressed.  “Work with them to uncover the patterns and make the necessary life changes.”

Authored by: Rob O'Neil