A headache is one of the first signs of COVID-19 virus, but it’s now also being recognized as a symptom that lingers long after the illness is over.

Dr. Valeriya Klats, a neurologist and headache specialist with the Hartford HealthCare (HHC) Ayer Institute Headache Center in Fairfield County, said the persistent headaches take several forms, but are typically bad enough that people present for medical care.

“We’re seeing a small subset of people who have prolonged headache symptom long after their acute illness is over,” she said. “This can either be episodic or an all-day, everyday headache. The way we describe this is the new ‘daily persistent headache.’ It’s very bothersome to patients.”

Dr. Klats said headache is an established symptom of the COVID-19 virus, listed as a top symptom on the Centers for Disease Control website and noted by healthcare experts in their patients worldwide.

“We know that coronavirus affects the nervous system both inside and outside of the brain,” she said, adding that even patients who do not have preexisting headache conditions often experience severe headaches at the outset of their COVID-19 infection.

The incidence has been studied by Dr. Sandhya Mehla, also a specialist with the HHC Headache Center.

“From the most recently available data, it is estimated that headache is a symptom in about 13 percent of patients with COVID-19,” she said. “It is the fifth-most common COVID-19 symptom after fever, cough, muscle aches and trouble breathing.”

Dr. Klatz said research is still needed to find  the best way to characterize headaches caused by COVID-19 infection.

“What we see anecdotally is that people describe symptoms that are of a migraine-type headache, a tension-type headache or combination of both. We’re treating it as a secondary condition – a headache due to viral illness – and then based on the symptomotology that the patients describe,” she said.

Dr. Mehla urged anyone with a sudden onset, severe headache to seek evaluation as a possible symptom of COVID-19, especially if there are other telling symptoms present such as aches, fever and loss of taste or smell.

 

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