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Tweets on migraine headaches share the pain

By Mary MacVean
Los Angeles Times

Not even the pain of a migraine headache keeps people from Twitter. (Just 67 characters.)

Over the course of a week, students studying how people share their migraine pain on Twitter collected every tweet that mentioned the word migraine. Once they cleared out the ads, the re-tweets and the metaphorical uses of the word, they had 14,028 tweets from people who described their headaches in real time – with words such as “killer,” “the worst” (almost 15 percent of the tweets).

The Twitter users also reported the repercussions from their migraines: missed school or work, lost sleep, mood changes.

The researchers found the information to be “a powerful source of knowledge” about the headaches because usually sufferers are providing information after the fact in clinical situations.

“The technology evolves, and our language evolves,” Dr. Alexandre DaSilva, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and lead author of the study, said by phone.

In his study, DaSilva said nearly three-quarters of the tweeters were female. They used 242 descriptive words, but some were common – “horrible,” “killing,” “pounding” and “splitting” among them. The researchers also found patterns in the timing of tweets, with the peaks coming Monday morning and evening.

DaSilva said he was astonished by the trove of information.

“I was surprised, and I believe that social media is also a relief for them. To kind of share, I’m suffering here. … ‘I am leaving work early, this migraine is killing me,’ ” he said. “I believe it gives some kind of relief to share the pain, and that provides so much information we don’t usually get.

“The more you connect with your patient, the better you can treat them,” he said.

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