The Experience of Headaches in Health Care Workers: Opportunity for Care Improvement


  • Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that they have no financial conflicts of interests.
  • Financial Support: This study was funded by Institute for Advancement of Health Care, Greenville Hospital System, and University of South Carolina.

Address all correspondence to J. Wu, South Carolina College of Pharmacy, University of South Carolina, Health Sciences Administration Bldg (MIPH), 701 Grove Road, Greenville, SC 29605, USA, email:



This study assessed the relationship between health care workers' self-reported experience of headaches/migraines, their overall quality of life, and treatment outcomes.


The study sample consisted of adults employed by a self-insured hospital system located in the Southeast United States. Study participants responded to a web-based survey disseminated via work email accounts. The survey measured headache medication use, health care service utilization, and impacts on quality of life and treatment optimization using standardized instruments.


We received responses from 2453 employees (response rate 33.8%), of which 84.4% reported headaches, suggesting that those with headaches were more likely to complete the survey. Forty percent of respondents reported mild to severe disability due to headaches, and approximately 65% used prescription or over-the-counter medications to treat headaches. Approximately 45% of participants taking headache medications reported unsatisfactory treatment. Among all respondents, those with mild, moderate, or severe migraine disability were 2.35, 1.7, or 2.08 times more likely to take headache medications than those with little or no migraine disability. Among those taking headache medications for treatment, respondents with nonclinical job titles, presenting better physical health status, or reporting little or no migraine disability were more likely to achieve treatment optimization.


Recognizing the potential over response by employees who have headaches, our study remains suggestive of a care improvement opportunity in the health care workforce.