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Why Headaches in Healthcare Professionals Are Common

Sometimes they’re pounding. Sometimes they’re stabbing. Sometimes they’re a dull ache, and sometimes they’re debilitating. They are headaches, and according to research, half of healthcare professionals experience them.

Chinese researchers were interested in building on previous research that they did which found that the prevalence of primary headache disorders in nurses was significantly higher than that in the general population, 45.3% vs. 23.8% respectively. From this study, they concluded that occupational factors may play a vital role in the pathogenesis of headache. They specifically pointed to the heavy workloads and the high states of tension and intensity they experience for long periods on a regular basis.


So for this more recent study, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, these same researchers aimed to identify other factors relevant to headaches in healthcare professionals, as well as possibly update their prior prevalence estimates. To do this, they randomly selected 280 physicians and 365 nurses from various departments in four hospitals in Sanya, which is one of southernmost cities in China. They had the participants answer questionnaires that collected demographic data, occupational factors, and headache characteristics about them.

What causes headaches in healthcare professionals

Ultimately, about 85% of the participants responded to the questionnaire—there were 240 doctors and 308 nurses. Among the medical staff, 50% experience headaches within the past year. Of this affected group, 25.9% report experiencing migraines and 24.1% report experiencing tension-type headaches.


The researchers noticed that there were some occupational insights into who suffer from headaches more:

  • Female doctors had a higher prevalence of migraine than that in female nurses, although this difference was not significant (32.4% vs. 29.8%, respectively).
  • Female doctors working in certain specialties, such as emergency and radiology departments, tend to have increased risk for headaches.
  • Married nurses were at increased risk for migraine.
  • Job titles were an independent risk factor for migraine and tension-type headaches.
  • Working more than six night-shifts per month was associated with an increased prevalence of migraine and tension-type headaches in doctors; the same was true in nurses for migraine, but not for tension-type headaches.

Ultimately, both doctors and nurses have a higher prevalence of headaches than that the general population. This study gives us a window into how work might determine which healthcare professionals will be affected by headaches more.

READ NEXT: Is PPE Causing Your Headaches?

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