Evaluating the relationships between migraine and social factors using Google search data
Is anyone as honest with their doctor as they are with their Google search bar?
A new study of search terms and phrases has uncovered key findings on migraine by examining patterns in the real-life experiences of people who have them. The longitudinal study, recently published in the Headache journal, aims to bridge the gap between research into clinical migraine factors and population-level social factors, which have been more difficult to explore in the past.
Dr. Tim Houle and his colleagues examined about 12 years of Google Trends data (from Jan. 1, 2004 to Aug. 15, 2016) looking for patterns in the locations, demographics and time frames wherein users were searching for information related to migraine pain, diagnosis and treatment. By studying the online queries of people seeking migraine-related resources, researchers hoped to test their hypothesis that societal factors—like days of the week, holidays and novel social events—could correlate to patterns in migraine-related searches.
Their findings, published in Headache in June under the title “Using Search Engines to Investigate Shared Migraine Experiences,” supported the hypothesis that societal factors corresponded with trends in migraine-related queries. Day of the week was found to have the most significant impact on the volume of Google searches for migraine, with Mondays accumulating 13.3% more relative migraine-related search activity than Fridays.
Holidays were also consistently associated with trends in migraine-related searches, which occurred less frequently than on non-holidays. Christmas Day saw a decrease in search volumes by nearly 14%, and on Thanksgiving, migraine-related searches were down more than 20% relative to search volumes on non-holidays.
Novel shared social events, and other communal experiences like extreme weather, also appear to be associated with changes in the volume migraine-related Google search activity compared to typical days, according to the findings published in Headache.
While the preliminary study didn’t investigate potential direct causative relationships between social factors and trends in the experiences of people with migraine, it confirmed that social factors play a crucial role in explaining population level migraine patterns, and thus, warrant further exploration.
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