Twitter and Facebook help doctors understand migraine symptoms

Revealing new 'sensory experiences'

Social media helps doctors understand migraine symptoms

Migraine ranks in the top 20 of the most disabling medical conditions in the world, yet researchers say that it's poorly understood, with many people failing to report it to their doctor, or not listing their symptoms comprehensively.

Now, however, a team of headache researchers is hoping to improve knowledge around the disorder by releasing the results of a study into migraines conducted on social media.

In particular, they wanted to know how prevalent phantom tastes, sounds and smells are among sufferers.

Daily Migraine

A team lead by Matthew S. Robbins reached out through the Daily Migraine - a website with a message board where those with migraines discuss symptoms and treatments.

Over a period of three weeks, the site used its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to ask its followers to list migraine-associated symptoms elicited by sensory experiences.

Phantom smells were the most commonly-reported symptom, particularly cigarette smoke, animal scents and cleaning products. However, some reported experiencing pleasant smells like food aromas, perfume and flowers.

Many also reported auditory experiences during migraines - including ringing sounds, buzzing and music. Phantom tastes were the least common symptom - with those who reported them experiencing the taste of either blood or food.

Unique Resource

"Given the onerous physical and emotional impact of migraine, an online forum is a unique resource to the professional headache community to help us improve how we diagnose, care for and treat headache and facial pain syndromes," said Cynthia Armand, who contributed to the study.

"For individuals affected by these neurological diseases, an online site may provide more anonymity and a community, making it a safe place to be open and honest without fear of being judged or marginalized."

The team's research was presented at the conference of the American Headache Society on 10 June 2016.

  • Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Each day he chooses the most interesting science story and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.

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