In 2019, everything changed – the pandemic struck. Two and a half years after the initial outbreak, it is still heavily influencing our day to day lives. A big part of this is ‘long Covid’. People from all around the world are coming forward with persistent, long-term symptoms of the virus. Among the most common are migraines and headaches.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Migraines and Headaches
Many of us have been asking ‘does Covid-19 cause migraines and headaches?’. Because the virus is still so new, scientists and doctors are continually discovering more and more about it, including the different effects it has on the body. Although more research is needed, overall, there appears to be a close link between Covid and headaches and migraines.
Not only is headache, often with migraine features, an early symptom of Covid-19, but a headache that doesn’t go away after having the virus could be a sign of post-Covid headache. One 2021 meta-analysis found that the prevalence of post-Covid headache ranged from 8% to 15% during the first six months after infection.
On top of this, viral infections have been found to make existing migraines worse, and if you already suffer from migraines, you are more likely to experience episodic attacks following Covid-19.
The complexities of headaches in Covid-19 patients
If you think you’re going through this, you’re not alone. People are experiencing post-Covid headaches in a range of different forms. One recent study published in the Headache Journal investigated three cases of migraine-like headaches in individuals with mild Covid-19.
The first patient, a 56-year-old woman, had a history of low-frequency episodic migraine. Headache was the first symptom of Covid-19 infection but differed from her usual migraine in that the pain since onset was constant. For more than five months after testing positive for Covid, she continued to experience headache almost daily and also reported closely-related symptoms, such as fatigue and insomnia.
The second patient, a 55-year-old woman with no personal or family history of a primary headache disorder, experienced headache as a symptom of Covid-19 a few days after her initial symptoms appeared. She had constant pain and was unable to engage in her usual physical exercise due to worsening of pain with movement.
The third patient, a 44-year-old man with asthma and no history of a primary headache disorder, exhibited symptoms including a cough and shortness of breath. When his respiratory symptoms began to improve, he started to report headaches. Over the course of the following weeks, his headaches increased to a constant, daily frequency, although he could still distinguish severe migraine-like days from milder ones.
So, it seems that headaches from Covid-19 differ greatly. For some of us, the virus makes our migraines worse, whilst for others, post-Covid symptoms are our first-ever experience of acute headache pain. It’s a pretty complex phenomenon…
What causes Covid migraines and headaches?
The truth is there’s no definitive cause of Covid-19 migraines and headaches. The effect of Covid on the nervous system remains undefined and research is ongoing. Some doctors, including Dr Osman Shabir, PhD of the University of Sheffield, believe that the cause of headache in Covid-19 may be attributed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus binding to ACE2 on trigeminal nerve endings within the nasal cavity, resulting in the activation of the trigeminovascular system, as well as inflammation. This, he says, is most likely the cause of loss of taste and smell too.
When it comes to migraines associated with Covid-19, could there be other factors at play? Testing positive for Covid results in changes to our routine. It may be that we get less sleep, due to feeling ill, and we may become stressed and anxious. These are two of the most common migraine triggers.
Treating headaches and migraines from Covid-19
Frustratingly, access to healthcare has been restricted since the pandemic; there are long waiting times for hospital and doctor appointments. For some of us, this has made living with chronic pain incredibly difficult and to a large degree, conditions like post-Covid headache and migraine have gone undiagnosed.
However, if you think you are suffering from long Covid, you should speak to your GP, who will be able to recommend suitable migraine treatment. Medication isn’t the only route to go down. There are lots of options to explore!
Our migraine recovery patches, for example, offer great a natural alternative. Combining vitamin D, chamomile, lavender and ginger – four popular pain relief home remedies with amazing health benefits – they can be applied to the forehead, temples or neck to shorten the length and severity of migraines and reduce recovery time. So, if you’re suffering from Covid-19 recovery headaches – or any type of migraine headache disorder for that matter – give them a try.
For more support and resources on living with chronic pain, or to share your personal experiences, join our Facebook community group Together For Better Days. We always say it, but we’d love to hear from you!