What if you could see 14,000 migraines happen in real-time? What would they look like? When would they occur?

Researchers from the University of Michigan, in a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, struck out to find this information. And they turned to Twitter for their answer.

Twitter–the fast moving, 140 character limited social media network–can provide a startling view into the real-time reactions of large groups of people. It proved to be an invaluable communication tool during the 2011 Egyptian political crisis. In one of its more low-brow moments, it also played host to a country-wide movie night during the first showing of Sharknado (which garnered up to 5,000 tweets per minute at its peak).

All of this to say that Twitter can really give us a very powerful insight into migraines–right as they happen. 

The University of Michigan researchers collected every tweet for a week that mentioned migraines. They weeded out any retweets and ads to arrive at 14,028 tweets in that time from people about their migraines.

What they found was that:

  • Many users reported that their migraines caused them to miss school, work, or sleep
  • Almost 15% of the tweets about migraines described them as “the worst”
  • Nearly 3/4 of the people tweeting about migraines were female
  • The most common words to describe migraines were: horrible, killing, pounding, and splitting
  • Almost 60% of the tweets came from users in the United States
  • Migraines were most tweeted about on Monday mornings and evenings

While these data points may seem insignificant, they actually do provide a great value to pain doctors and other medical professionals. Not only can they see when migraines most often happen, but they also get to hear about them as they happen, rather than after the incident.

As the lead author on the study notes in an LA Times article:

I was surprised, and I believe that social media is also a relief for them. To kind of share, I’m suffering here. ‘I am leaving work early, this migraine is killing me.’ I believe it gives some kind of relief to share the pain, and that provides so much information we don’t usually get. The more you connect with your patient, the better you can treat them.

Have you ever talked about your pain condition on social media? Did it help you find some relief? 

Image by Andreas Eldh via Flickr

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