One of the more common symptoms of COVID-19 that may persist long after initial infection are severe headaches and outright migraines — possibly a result of the body’s inflammatory response to the virus, some studies have indicated.
Although medical researchers continue looking at the link between COVID-19 and more frequent or more severe headaches, there’s much that is uncertain about the neurologic impact of the virus, explains neurologist Pooja S. Patel, M.D., director of the Epilepsy Program at Marcus Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health.
“With COVID, we have seen patients who have history of headaches getting worse after having COVID,” said Dr. Patel. “We have also seen newer onsets of migraine-like headaches emerge after having COVID, even in patients that don’t have a history of headaches.”
But it’s uncertain for how long severe headaches will last — as with many so-called “long COVID” symptoms that persist months after initial infection.
“We don’t know whether it’s going to last a few weeks, a few months, or if it’s a chronic condition,” says Dr. Patel. “That’s something we’re still learning. But, in terms of treating this condition, it’s really the same way we would treat any other headaches or migraines in general.”
In addition to an acute headache and pain in the face and neck, symptoms of chronic migraines can also include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness or numbness, and greater sensitivity to light or sound.
A recent online survey focused on the effects of COVID-19 on patients who suffered from migraines before being infected. The results, published in the Journal of Headache and Pain, found that about 60 percent of respondents reported an increase in migraine frequency, 16 percent reported a decrease in migraine frequency, and about 10 percent reported going from periodic migraines to chronic migraine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had an overall negative impact on patients with migraine,” the study concludes. “Several risk factors for poor outcome were identified. Long-term strategies should be validated and implemented to deliver quality care for patients with migraine, with emphasis on psychosocial well-being.”
Dr. Patel says that future studies will be undertaken to determine the migraine connection to COVID-19, but severe headaches are not unusual when fighting other viruses, she adds. At this time, it’s not known whether the more contagious delta variant will increase the frequency of severe headaches or migraines.
“I don’t believe that headache symptoms will be any different with (delta variant),” said Dr. Patel. “It’s going to be similar to what we have seeing so far.”