What to do When a Migraine Comes Out of Nowhere and You Are at Work

For the millions of Americans who live with migraine, the thought of having an attack at work can be a source of major anxiety. When a migraine strikes, the only place you can even conceive of being is at home, not under the fluorescent lights of a cubicle or in front of a glaring computer screen. Because right now there is no cure for migraine, and you still have to go to work, we put together some guidelines for how to create a migraine action plan for when one strikes while you’re on the job. These tips will help you create and execute a plan, and help drive a productive conversation about the disease with your boss.

An action plan for when a migraine strikes at work

Talk to your boss or HR department

Disclosing personal medical information to an employer is optional, but when it comes to migraine, it can be advantageous to talk to your boss and explain the disease, the symptoms and how they manifest, and that when you get a migraine, you could be out of commission for the next few days. Schedule a meeting with the HR department or directly with your boss, and bring some supporting materials like a migraine fact sheet or a note from your doctor in case your employer is not familiar with its symptoms and severity. The American Migraine Foundation’s website is a great resource for this.

Find an advocate

Having someone on your side who understands what you are going through helps people living with migraine feel a little less isolated. Ask a colleague, particularly someone with whom you are already friends, to act as your advocate when you have an attack at the office. They will make sure you get home safely and that your desk and computer are secured and powered down. This person will also be in charge of checking in with you when you get home.

Manage your migraine and its triggers

Stress is a common migraine trigger for many people. If this is true for you, think about ways to keep your work environment as stress-free as possible. One way to do this is through project and time management techniques that space out deadlines and cut back on the constant flow of updates from your inbox and other programs. Other methods include maintaining a comfortable work space, putting an anti-glare screen on your computer, investing in an ergonomic chair and taking the occasional break for fresh air. Most importantly, keep an emergency migraine kit at your desk. Items to include: A bottle of water, snacks, your migraine medication, and a cooling pack for your forehead.

Take action

As soon as you feel an attack coming on, let your designated advocate know so you can work together to execute the predetermined plan for getting home safely. Whatever your coping mechanisms are, it’s advisable to take your prescribed medication as quickly as possible, but then move onto other proven strategies that may be unique to your symptoms. When it comes to getting home, grab a taxi or ask a friend or your office advocate for a ride. Do not drive, and avoid public transportation. Migraine attack can intensify quickly and driving could be very dangerous.

Remember, you are not alone in your fight against migraine. Our website has a wealth of resources to help guide a discussion with your boss. If you have questions about talking to your employer about migraine, or if you would like help locating a headache specialist, contact the American Migraine Foundation.