Twitter and Google Help Migraine Studies

Researchers from Boston Children's Hospital analyzed Google searches and tweets for a headache study. And it might just work.

splitting headacheSplitting headache? Researchers are using social media to study headaches. Photo via Shutterstock.

Boston Children’s Hospital knows where people turn when they need medical information: Google and Twitter. Researchers used Google Trends to determined the relative number of “migraine” searches in the United States between January 1, 2007 and July 31, 2012. The study will be in the January 2013 journal Cephalalgia, which is published on behalf of the International Headache Society.

There were significantly more Google searches for “migraine” during weekdays than during the weekends, with the most searches on Tuesdays and the least on Fridays (during weekdays).

On Twitter, the most common time for migraine tweets was between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., which the researchers say is a peak time for migraine attacks. The term “headache” was tweeted six times more often than “migraine” according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health. Headache tweets peaked at 7 a.m. and at 5 p.m. during the work week and at 9:30 a.m. on weekend days.

The study recognizes that you can’t necessarily tell from a search term why a person is looking for certain information, and that tweets are different from Google searches because in many cases, personal information is revealed. Many of the researched tweets reviewed in this study described the frustration over having a headache or migraine, the symptoms the user was having at the time, how long the migraine lasted, what medications the users were taking, what may have caused the episodes, and other personal information.

How is this information useful? The Harvard Health blog says that:

This kind of information could be a treasure trove for researchers trying to answer questions about migraine. “An in-depth analysis of time series of Tweets by individual migraineurs may provide information on triggers such as sleep deprivation, stress, and foods,” says Dr. Clas Linnman, lead author of the study and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Notice how Facebook wasn’t a part of the study?