Tweetment: Twitter Users Describe Real-Time Migraine Agony

Weighlifter Ruslan Nurudinov of Uzbekista. Adam Nurkiewicz / Getty Images

Migraine suffers have been spreading the agony and pain in 140 characters on Twitter.

Researchers say this indicates a general trend toward the cathartic sharing of physical pain, as well as emotional pain, on social media.

“As technology and language evolve, so does the way we share our suffering,” said Alexandre DaSilva, assistant professor and director of the Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort at University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

DaSilva and his team worked with 50 students and residents to categorize 21,741 tweets. It’s the first known study to show the instant impact of migraine attacks on patients’ lives by decoding manually each one of their individual attack-related tweets.”

They eliminated advertising, metaphor and non-related migraine tweets, which has not been done in previous studies. Then they analszed the meaning of each individual migraine tweet.

“We sought to evaluate the instant expression of actual self-reported migraine attacks in social media,” DaSilva said.

Results generated unique information about who suffers from migraines and what, how, where and when they use social media to describe their pain.

They examined the most common descriptors for migraines, including profanities, tweet times and locations, and impact on productivity and mood.

Only 65% of the migraine tweets were from actual sufferers of migraines posting in real-time. Other tweets were advertising, general discussion, retweets, indicating that not everything in social media is meaningful to the patient.

Among the findings:

  • Females accounted for about 74% of migraine tweets.
  • The higher global peak of migraine tweets occurred Mondays at 1400 GMT.
  • The US accounted for 58% of migraine tweets, followed by Europe at 20%.
  • In the US, migraine tweets peaked at 9 am and 8 pm on weekdays. The morning tweets peaked later on weekends.
  • Roughly 44% of tweets reported that migraine attacks immediately impacted mood.
  • The most common migraine descriptors were “worst” at nearly 15% and “massive” at 8%.

An estimated 12% of the Western world population suffer migraine attacks and of those 75% see reduced functionality and 30% require bed rest.

The study appears in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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