Long COVID: Headaches

Headaches

Long COVID headache is one of many symptoms of long COVID. The headache, often called post-COVID headache, may be one of several types of headache with unique timing - i.e. starting points and different symptoms

What are the Types of Long COVID Headache?

A long COVID headache may be a:

  • Migraine-type headache

  • Tension-type headache

  • Mixed-type headache with migraine-type and tension-type symptoms

You may have other symptoms like fatigue or tiredness, trouble sleeping, brain fog or memory/concentration problems, etc. The other symptoms can worsen your headache and your headache may also worsen the other symptoms.

Timing: When Do Long COVID Headaches Start?

The headache may start with your initial COVID infection and continue for weeks or months; may not have been a symptom of your initial COVID infection and begin weeks later; or may pre-date your initial COVID infection. For example, a person may have a history of migraine headaches - the headaches may become worse or constant with long COVID.

What are the Symptoms of Long COVID Headache?

The following graphic includes long COVID headache symptoms. They may be migraine-like, mixed, or tension-like.

What Causes Long COVID Headache?

The cause of COVID headache is not completely understood. There are several theories including overactivity (hyperactivation) of the immune system, invasion of the nervous system by the virus, inflammation throughout the body (systemic inflammation), localized inflammation of the nervous system, etc.

How Common is Long COVID Headache?

Headaches are a common symptom in long COVID. In one study, among several thousand people worldwide with long COVID, three out of four reported headaches. Even six months after their initial COVID infection, one out of two reported headaches. 

What is the Treatment for Long COVID Headache?

Treatment for long COVID headache may include a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, lifestyle changes, mind-body techniques, etc.

Reducing Pain

Supplements, like peppermint oil applied to the skin, and OTC medicines, like acetaminophen combined with caffeine (Excedrin Tension Headache) may help lessen headache and related symptoms.

Healthy Lifestyle

The activities and habits that are critical to your overall health may also help with your headache. Your Goodpath coach can help you with lifestyle changes such as diet, stress reduction, etc.

Your Diet

Consider following an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet. It is healthy overall and emphasizes plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables; whole grains; legumes, nuts, and seeds; and healthy fats (olive oil). It also includes some chicken and fish and minimal red meat and refined sugar. 

Make sure to stay hydrated. The best choice? Water. Dehydration itself often results in headaches.

Smoking and Alcohol Use

Healthy habits are part of your long COVID recovery. It’s simple - if you smoke, consider quitting.  For alcohol, an occasional drink is unlikely to cause harm. However, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol  - even in small amounts. 

Exercise and Physical Activity

Appropriate exercise and physical activity are also part of long COVID recovery. It may be difficult to exercise with your headache, as well as other long COVID symptoms. It may take time until you’re able to be more active. Start slow with the idea that you’re working towards regular activity and exercise.

Reducing Stress

Dealing with long COVID is very stressful. Anxiety and stress impact headaches, as well as other long COVID symptoms. Mind-body activities and social support may help to reduce stress and improve mood. Meditation, journaling, and yoga are some effective mind-body techniques.

Other Conditions

You may have other conditions that can worsen your long COVID headache. Two examples are sleep problems and mood disorders. Treating the conditions can help with your headache.

Sleep

Trouble sleeping is common in long COVID and is associated with headaches.  Treatment to help improve sleep may be changing sleep habits, supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, and mind-body techniques.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders, like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common in long COVID. If untreated, they may contribute to your headache. 

You may see your doctor or a therapist for treatment. They may prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.  Supplements and mind-body techniques that address depression, anxiety, etc. may be part of your long COVID program.

When Should I Contact My Doctor?

If you have a headache and any of the following, you should contact your doctor. A headache:

  • That is getting worse

  • With a fever

  • With weakness, numbness, trouble with movement, decreased alertness

  • That has a very sudden onset

  • That is new and you are older than 50 years old

  • That is new and you are pregnant

  • That changes in intensity when you change positions

  • That comes on with sneezing, coughing, or exercise

Goodpath’s Long COVID Program

To help with long COVID headache, your program may include supplements, OTC medicines, cognitive and mind-body techniques, nutritional support, etc. Your coach will provide assistance to help with your headache, as well as long COVID overall.