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Case Study: A Crushing Headache as an Early Sign of COVID-19

July 14, 2020

The headache struck like the sudden boom of a thunderclap, waking the otherwise healthy woman. Six hours later, she had other symptoms of COVID-19.

The 33-year-old, who had a history of migraine but found this virus-related headache to be different and much worse, is the subject of a case study by Dr. Sandhya Mehla, a headache specialist with the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center.

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

She was a fellow at the Headache Center when she started examining this one patient’s experience with headache and COVID-19. She said Center specialists are seeing patients reporting different headache types as an early symptom of the virus. These range from “bi-frontal, dull headaches” to “thunderclap headaches” and may be a worsening of the patient’s previous headaches in terms of frequency and severity or a completely new type of headache, she said.

There is limited information on the relationship of headache and COVID-19, but Dr. Mehla said people should report any new, severe or sudden headaches to their primary care providers.

“Any new onset, severe headache with or without neurological symptoms is a worrisome sign and requires evaluation,” she said. “It should be looked at as a possible symptom of COVID-19, especially if other possible symptoms – aches, fever, cough, dizziness or loss of taste and smell – are present.”

The likely next step would be testing for COVID-19, she said.

“It is important not only for themselves but also for the family so they can isolate early and minimize transmission of the virus,” Dr. Mehla said, adding that people can also contact their neurologist or headache specialist for advice on managing headache.

Dr. Mehla and other researchers at the Headache Center want to create a database on patients who had a new headache or changes, including worsening, of their headache patterns and then tested positive for COVID-19.

“This will help us characterize headaches in these patients which, in turn, can be helpful in early recognition of COVID-19,” she said.

For more information on help for headaches, click here.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

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Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

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Connect with the HHC Headache Center

When head pain gets too frequent, intense or disruptive to your life, Ayer Neuroscience Institute Headache Center experts can help.

Visit website Call Call 860.696.2925