Twitter -A Migraine Research Tool?

Researchers from Harvard Medical School are looking for new ways to better understand the migraine experience. They've taken their investigations to the Internet, exploring how people search for migraine on Google and Tweet about their migraines. Rather than asking people to remember when their migraine occurred or reviewing migraine diaries, these researchers used searches and Tweets as a marker of migraine activity.

Here's the theory—people are probably most likely to search for a topic when they're having an immediate problem with it. You're probably more likely to search the web for information on whether that afternoon chocolate bar caused your migraine right around the time that you get your migraine rather than days or weeks later.

Previous work has shown that migraines often occur during times of stress or immediately after stress and less likely during low stress times. For example, a 2003 report in the journal Cephalalgia surveyed over 5500 children 8 to 16 years old. Headaches tended to occur during the school year rather than vacation months; on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays; and between 6 am and 6 pm. This doesn't mean kids are just bringing up headaches to get out of school. School is an important trigger.

An earlier study in the journal Headache showed that migraines also tend to cluster during certain times of the day for adults. This study investigated over 3500 migraines in almost 1700 adults. Rather than being scattered throughout the day, migraines are most likely to begin between 4 am and 9 am.

Now Harvard researchers have a new report for Cephalalgia probing computer use to understand migraine patterns. Here's what they found:

  • Google searches for migraine are more frequent during the week rather than on weekends.
    • Migraine searches are most common on Tuesday and least common on Friday.
    • Migraine searches are also less common during holidays.
  • Twitter mentions of migraine are also more common during the week than the weekends.
    • Migraine Tweets are most common on Mondays and least common on Fridays.
    • Most migraine Tweets are posted at 7 am.
    • The word "headache" is tweeted about six times more often than migraine, with headache Tweets typically between 7 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 9:30 am on weekends.

These researchers plan to additionally examine Tweets for content to see if this can tell them something about migraine impact, triggers, and treatment effectiveness.

While Internet use doesn't necessarily correlate with migraine activity—you may use the Internet with it

when it's most convenient or you may not be able to use the Internet during a severe migraine—this research is an interesting approach to reaching into the lives of people with migraines who are seeking help through Internet resources. The next time you're searching for migraine or Tweeting about your experience, check the day and time and see how your use matches with what these researchers found. This may also help show you patterns in your own migraine activity.


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