Where We Head When We Have a Headache

Self-care approaches differ globally, Sanofi survey finds; and reveals the importance of self-care, how easily we forget it and the considerable impact it can have on our lives

Almost everybody gets headaches or a cough from time to time, and many people have occasional allergies, back pain, indigestion or a bout of insomnia. How we choose to care for ourselves when common problems arise, it turns out, is different across nations, unfortunately with a high percentage of us doing nothing at all.

Conducted by Ipsos, it asked more than 18,000 people about their experience, knowledge and self-care practices concerning 13 common health conditions[1].

The results were really interesting. For example, globally, 77% feel that they can manage these common conditions well. Americans are the most informed, with over 80% feeling very knowledgeable, while Russians feel the least informed with just 58% feeling knowledgeable (falling to just 15% when it comes to indigestion).

What is very surprising is the high percentage of people who do nothing and wait for the illness to pass. This is particularly the case with sleep (39%) and stress (44%) issues. And, when we see in the study that sleep and stress problems have the most impact on people’s daily lives – at work or at home – this becomes worrying.

Alan Main, Head of Sanofi Consumer Healthcare

Whether individual approaches to common health conditions are related to culture, the healthcare systems or the perception of how serious these health complaints can be, it is clear from the report that better understanding may encourage people to seek authoritative advice sooner, and get better at self-care. There’s no better time than International Self-Care Day on July 24 to become more aware of how important self-care is and how easily we forget it.

« Common health conditions such as stress, colds and headaches impact a large proportion of people around the world every single day. They affect both our personal and working lives and have a significant impact on our economy », said Alan Main.

Are There National Immunities?

  • In Germany, 58% said they never suffered from constipation problems over the past year. In Mexico, 44% said it was a problem at least once a month.
  • When it comes to headache 37% of people surveyed in Japan said they haven’t had one during the last 12 months. In Russia, 95% of people have had at least one, and 79% have had one at least once a month.
  • The Japanese are likewise much less likely to suffer back pain, with 37% saying it has not been an issue for the last year – while in Russia, 84% have had at least one incidence, and in the USA, 62% report a back problem at least every month.
  • Sleep issues are almost universal problems, but the soundest sleepers are from Japan (47% with no sleep issues in the past year), followed by Italy (41%) and Germany (40%). These figures still suggest people in these countries are suffering a lot from a lack of sleep.
  • Stress likewise affects the Japanese least of all (41% with none reported for the past year), and Americans the most (79% reporting at least one episode of stress). But half of the respondents overall said stress was a problem at least once in the previous 12 months.
  • If you dislike allergies you might prefer to live in Germany, where 49% of people report never having them; you might not want to live in the USA (73% suffer) or Brazil (63%).

While the survey didn’t examine any reasons for these national differences, the results raise interesting questions about what aspects might play a role in nations.

Where We Turn When We Fall Ill

In terms of where people turn to first when they fall ill, healthcare providers are still at the top of the list (30% physicians and 20% pharmacists), with people in Mexico being most likely to visit their family doctor.

"The way that the healthcare system and reimbursement is set up has an impact, but there are also variations according to the condition and the culture", said Alan Main. "For example, back pain, allergies, sleep and stress issues drive people to visit their physicians first, while people prefer to seek information from a pharmacist for coughs, headaches and period pain."

People who live in Japan are most likely to make the Internet their first stop for advice on any common health complaint, with people in the USA and Russia not far behind."Japan is an interesting exception, where 40% of people turn to ‘Dr. Google’ first, compared to the global average of 14%. However, this does not necessarily translate into online sales, with just 2% buying online in Japan", said Alan Main.

Both the internet and individuals like family or friends were frequent sources of knowledge and advice for almost every condition in the survey.

  • Headaches may affect nearly everyone, but there’s an enormous difference between how people handle them in Japan (where 45% went to the Internet for advice and only 5% to a pharmacist) and France (where 42% went to see a pharmacist and just 4% visited the Internet).
  • Abdominal pain generates an initial Internet search by 24% in the USA and 20% in Russia. By contrast, in Mexico, 52% went directly to a family doctor or physician; likewise, in France, 45% made a doctor their first stop.
  • Of all the common conditions, sleep and stress were the most likely complaint to be referred to “Dr. Google” first, an average of 20% across countries, and as high as 48% in Japan, followed by 26% in Russia, 23% in the USA, and 19% in Germany.

The self-care journey is more likely to start at home in certain countries. In Brazil, Mexico and Japan people are more likely to talk to family first, particularly about treating headache, period pain, diarrhea and constipation. In France, by contrast, people are consistently the least likely to consult friends first for a health problem.

Living with – and Through – Common Conditions

International Self-Care Day (ISD), on 24 July each year, provides a focus and opportunity to raise the profile of how healthy lifestyle self-care programs around the world can help deal with conditions like headache, colds, back pain, allergies, sleep and stress. The report commissioned by Sanofi this year highlights the prevalence but also how these conditions not only cause pain and discomfort, they can also have a considerable impact on daily life.

A significant number of people reported negative life impacts from conditions, both physical and psychological. For example:

  • Some 41% of people overall reported that having these common health problems had an important impact on their self-confidence – 52% of Russians and 48% of Australians said that, along with 46% of those in Brazil and the USA.
  • About half of all people surveyed said their health problems had a big impact on their stress levels – with even higher numbers in the USA, Mexico, Australia and Russia.
  • Almost the same results occur when it comes to how being sick affects sleep – and again, those who report the highest negative effect live in France, Australia and the USA.

"The overall impact of these conditions on daily life can be quite significant. In the last month, 44% went to work suffering from one of these conditions, with 75% saying their productivity was affected and 50% saying it highly impacted their ability to work effectively", said Alan Main. "Overall, 26% have been forced to take a sick day in the last month because of one of these conditions; this rises to 40% and 28% respectively for Australians and Russians. Germans have taken the most sick leave, over five days off in the past month."

To encourage better self-care, The ‘Self Care: Be Your Best’ Report recommends we do the following:

Report « Self Care: Be Your Best »

"By making small changes to the way people perceive and treat common health conditions, we can make a big difference to people’s lives all over the world", said Alan Main.

[1]The study participants live in France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Australia, Japan and Russia, and were asked about headache, abdominal pain, period pain, back pain, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, cough, cold, allergies, flu, sleep issues, stress. The survey results have a 95% confidence level.


Related article