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Twitter study: Migraine tweets provide valuable medical research

Migraine headaches often prompt descriptive and informative tweets.
Migraine headaches often prompt descriptive and informative tweets.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

People who have migraine headaches sometimes feel alone with their pain, but a recent study shows that there are a great number of them on Twitter. According to a Tuesday, May 6, report on the Star, this study found that there were 14,028 original tweets about real migraine headaches in one week's time. They did not count all the many advertisements on Twitter about migraine cures or the tweets by people who just tweet that their spouse is giving them a migraine.

The medical community is paying attention to these 67-character descriptions of symptoms. Dr. Alexandre DaSilva from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry was the lead author of the study, and it was published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The information gathered through this social media research offers valuable insight to the professionals who treat migraine sufferers on a daily basis. The study not only included the severity of the pain described in the tweet but the particular inconveniences that the migraine caused, such as missing work or school.

The various descriptions of pain posted on Twitter by the migraine sufferers are important to the researchers, although some of the verbiage used is generational. Dr. DaSilva indicated that some of the words reflect the video game generation, such as "killer" or "pounding" migraines. (It could possibly follow that the video games may have caused some of these "killer" migraines.)

A subject search on Twitter for the hashtag #migraine reveals a wealth of information at any moment. Most of the tweets have a very expressive way of letting the Twitterverse know how they feel about said migraines, often using profanity to describe the level of displeasure. One interesting tweet described the way the person self-treats their migraine.

g-eazy ‏@sleepingxbooty 4m

2 bags over frozen broccoli on my face and one behind my neck like are you serious gtfo migraine

It is an interesting concept, though, to think that medical researchers are listening when we complain about a particular health affliction on social media. It does make sense that Twitter would be like a large laboratory with real time results available at any given moment. Let’s just hope that social media doesn’t turn into a visit to your Aunt’s house where the conversation runs the gamut from constipation to moles that change color. When the hypochondriacs take over Twitter, it won't be pretty.

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