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Headache in COVID-19: how does the symptom manifest itself?

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The symptom can appear both in the acute phase of the infection and in the post-COVID period; know what causes it and how to alleviate the condition.

Headache is one of the main signs associated with infection by SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19, and usually appears in the presymptomatic and symptomatic phase —may resemble tension headache or migraine. The intensity of pain varies from medium to severe and can affect both sides of the head.

“The mechanisms by which headaches develop in general infections are well known, such as infection in the central nervous system by viruses. SARS-CoV-2 has this component as a possible headache trigger, which is frequent in the acute phase”, explains Leonardo de Sousa Bernardes, a neurologist specializing in neuro-oncology at Hospital Albert Sabin.



According to recent research, approximately half of all people with an acute COVID-19 infection develop a headache — with this being the first presenting symptom in about a quarter of patients. It is common for headache to be associated with other initial symptoms, such as sore throat and runny nose.

Despite being classified as a respiratory illness, one in five people with moderate to severe COVID-19 highlighted neurological symptoms as the most bothersome, such as headache, mental confusion and loss of taste and smell.

What causes headache in COVID-19?

Although it is still necessary to understand the specific pathophysiological mechanisms related to headache in COVID-19, Leonardo and some studies have identified:

  • Direct viral injury;

  • Dehydration;

  • Coagulopathy (blood clotting problems);

  • Inflammatory process;

  • Hypoxemia (less oxygen in the blood);

  • Problems with the endothelial cells that form the inner layer of blood vessels.

Despite recent research, such mechanisms do not account for all types of headache. “Headache is a clinically significant symptom of COVID-19. Although its characteristics in the acute phase of the disease are already well known, there is a need for studies on its management and persistence”, concluded the research by Sampaio Rocha-Filho PA.



How does the headache in COVID-19 manifest itself?

Headaches associated with COVID-19 can manifest in different ways, considering factors such as history of headache and intensity of infection. In general, symptom characteristics fall into three main categories, each corresponding to existing types of diagnoses, namely:

  • Migraine: it is described as a throbbing and crippling pain on one side of the head, which may be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light;
  • Tension headache: known as tension headache, is the most common type of primary headache and causes mild to moderate pain that affects both sides of the head. It is described as the sensation of a tight band around the head;
  • Constant headache: some headaches, especially the tension type, may have a characteristic that justifies the third category: they can last for days, weeks or even months. According to a study carried out with more than 900 patients with COVID-19, the headache lasted an average of 14 days, while some patients had the symptom three months after the infection.

Is headache a symptom of long COVID?

Although the headaches associated with COVID-19 resolve for most patients, the end of the acute phase of the infection does not necessarily mean the end of your symptoms.

The condition, called long-term COVID (or post-COVID syndrome) as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is characterized by relief and return of illness symptoms over four or more weeks — even after illness. virus elimination.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 10% to 20% of people who have had COVID-19 will have symptoms that will not disappear for weeks or even months, with headache being one of the main ones associated with the condition. The persistence of the problem can directly affect the quality of life.

People with a history of frequent headaches or migraines are more likely to experience post-COVID symptoms. Those who presented it as the first symptom or whose pain lasted longer than the rest of the signs of COVID-19 are also more likely to manifest it after the end of the infection.

How to deal with the headache in COVID-19

It is important to highlight that, in isolation, headache is not used to diagnose a COVID-19 infection. The symptom is one of the most common complaints in doctors’ offices and, according to the Brazilian Headache Society, it is estimated that 95% of the population has some type of headache throughout their lives.

In most cases, unlike chronic conditions, the headache will go away with resolution of the infection. If she persists even after the negative test, it is important that there is a medical evaluation to assess the means of treating the problem – in particular because, depending on the intensity, it can prevent the performance of everyday activities.

Those with post-COVID headaches tend to respond well to medications such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline that are indicated to treat migraines, especially those who are resistant to common pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The patient can also resort to homemade methods to alleviate mild to medium pain, such as compresses, teas and acupuncture.

Learn more: Medicine for headache: check out 8 most suitable options

In all cases, it is essential that the person adopts healthier life habits, such as physical exercise, a balanced diet and quality sleep, in addition to managing stress. This helps control pain in general.



Content for educational purposes only. Consult a Doctor.

The translator user relied on the following source:

Minha Vida Website – REF99827

Disclaimer – (English version>) This content has been prepared based on information from research, additional publications, or the translation/verification work of a volunteer editor of this web council. This is a non-profit service. It is strongly recommended that all details and information published be carefully verified. We never allow medication recommendations, medication package inserts or any medication guidance. We never allow partisan politics as information.

Isenção de responsabilidade – (versão em português): Este conteúdo foi preparado com base em informações de pesquisas, publicações adicionais ou no trabalho de tradução/verificação de um editor voluntário deste conselho web. Este é um serviço sem fins lucrativos. É altamente recomendável que todos os detalhes e informações publicadas sejam verificadas cuidadosamente. Nunca permitimos recomendações de medicamentos, bulas ou qualquer orientação sobre medicamentos. Nunca permitimos a política partidária como base para checagem. Para mais informações, leia nossos termos.

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