- The headache associated with COVID-19 may feel like a tension headache or migraine.
- Some patients may experience persistent headaches on a daily basis after recovering from an acute COVID-19 infection.
- Lifestyle changes and some medications treat COVID headaches to some degree.
Headache is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. But are they different from other types of headaches?
According to Igor Koralnik, head of the Department of Neuroinfectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine, COVID headaches can vary among people. Headaches can be similar to a constant tension headache or a pulse attack like a migraine attack.
At the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic at Northwest Memorial Hospital, about 70 percent of patients experience coronavirus-related headaches, Koralnik added.
According to a 2020 study, patients who already have a major headache are more likely to develop COVID than those who do not. Dehydrated patients also reported more COVID-related headaches. Coughing or head movements can lead to an increase in headaches.
Erin McConnell, Ph.D., an internal medicine doctor at the COVID-19 Rehabilitation Program at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio State University, said some of her patients are experiencing new or worse migraines after an acute COVID-19 infection.
“It’s multi-factorial, probably many patients [long COVID] They are suffering from fatigue and irreversible sleep, both of which can cause migraine headaches, ”he said.
Why does COVID cause headaches?
Survivors of the 1890 flu pandemic experienced post-infection symptoms a few months after the end of the pandemic. One of the documented challenges was a persistent, daily headache. Scientists suggest that many of the similarities between the 1890 pandemic and the current pandemic suggest that headaches of a similar nature are a possible consequence of COVID-19.
“It would be wrong to assume that the new headache is due to the viral disease itself, because COVID is accompanied by flu-like symptoms,” McConnell said.
Many people develop headaches during the course of the infection, which usually go away when they recover. In some cases, headaches appear long after the initial infection.
“Headaches with COVID can last from severe illness or from weeks to months, especially in those who develop them as part of a long-lasting COVID appearance,” McConnell said.
Coralnik, who recently conducted a study on long-term COVID symptoms, Headaches caused by viral illnesses are said to last less often than in patients with COVID.
There are no definite data, but post-COVID-19 headache may be due to systemic inflammation in the acute phase of COVID-19 or persistent activation of the immune system.
Koralnik said the virus could confuse the immune system by “thinking that it should attack normal components of the brain.” Inflammation and changes in the microcirculation around the brain can cause headaches after COVID.
How is COVID headache treated?
Recommendations for treating long-term COVID headaches are similar to how doctors treat other chronic headaches, McConnell said, including getting enough sleep, proper hydration, eating regularly, and minimizing stress.
Overuse of over-the-counter painkillers can lead to headaches, so it’s a good idea to discuss possible treatments with your healthcare provider.
“If they become severe or frequent, we can start prophylactic medications such as beta-blockers, anti-epileptic or tricyclic antidepressants, which are medications we commonly use to prevent chronic headaches on a daily basis,” McConnell said.
As with all cases of neurological symptoms, the diagnosis of any headache should be based on a thorough medical history and neurological examination, Koralnik said. Occasionally, headaches do not respond to over-the-counter medications and NSAIDs.
If no other cause is found, low doses of nortriptyline, a type of antidepressant, are used to prevent and treat headaches before bedtime, he added.
More research is needed to understand how to effectively treat post-COVID symptoms. Experts recommend vaccination and intensification of COVID-19 to prevent serious consequences of the disease.
The information in this article is up to date, so new information may be available as you read it. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.