Researchers looked at tweets from migraine sufferers to get a better grip on the kind of pain they suffer.
If misery loves company, it can find a lot on Twitter – at least if that misery comes in the form of a migraine headache.
Researchers who spent a week on Twitter found 21,741 tweets about migraines, says a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Two-thirds appeared to come directly from sufferers, many in the midst of migraine attacks.
The migraine study is part of a trend among academic researchers – in fields from medicine to social science – to mine data from the real-time world of social media.
One aim of the latest research: to get descriptions of migraines straight from sufferers, outside a medical setting, says study author Alexandre DaSilva, who directs a pain research lab at the University of Michigan's dental school.
"We want to connect with our patients and understand how they express their pain," he says.
What did the migraine masses have to say? The most common single descriptive word was "worst," used by 15%, followed by "bad," "massive," "major" and "killer." Quite a few tweeted a profanity or two, led by one commonly known as "the f-word," used by 3%.
DaSilva says it's interesting that those terms were more common than several words doctors typically use when asking patients about their headache pain – such as "throbbing," "pounding" and "splitting."
That suggests, he says, that doctors might benefit from trying some new lingo with patients (short of profanity, of course).
"As our technology and language evolve, they change the way we express our suffering," he says.
The study found that more of the tweets came from females than males, in keeping with known migraine statistics. Eighteen percent of women and 6% of men in the USA have had migraines. The migraine tweeters were 73% female.
Migraine tweets peaked on Mondays at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. DaSilva says that doesn't necessarily mean that's when migraine pain peaked.