Why workers with cluster headaches could take twice as many sick days

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People afflicted with cluster headaches miss work twice as often as colleagues without the debilitating headaches, a new study finds.

Cluster headaches are extremely painful headaches that last from 15 minutes to three hours, for many days, or even weeks, in a row. They're more common in men.

Disability days

For the study, Swedish researchers compared more than 3 200 working-age people who get cluster headaches with 16 200 people who don't have them.

In 2010, headache sufferers averaged 16 sick days, compared to just under seven days for the headache-free group, the findings showed.

When disability days were added in, people with cluster headaches averaged 63 missed workdays a year. Those without headaches averaged 34.

And those with less education missed more work than those with more schooling: 86 days for those who completed only elementary school; 65 for those who finished high school; and 41 days for those who went to college, according to the report.

The researchers also found that women with cluster headaches took twice as many sick days (24) as men (12), and had an average of 84 sick and disability days, compared with 53 for men.

Fewer days in pain

The study was published online in the journal Neurology.

Author Dr Christina Sjostrand said the findings show that "cluster headaches dramatically interfere" with people's capacity to work. She's a researcher in the department of clinical neuroscience at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

"More research is needed on how to best treat and manage this form of headache so people who experience them have fewer days in pain and miss fewer days of work," Sjostrand said in a journal news release.

"While it is believed that men and women experience cluster headaches in mostly similar ways, it may be that we do not yet have a full picture of sex differences in the disease," she added. "The reasons for these sex differences are unclear and more studies are needed."

Cluster headaches affect about one in every 1 000 people in the United States.

Image credit: iStock

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