Stress and coronavirus pandemic may be driving uptick in migraine attacks

Even for those who have not been infected with the coronavirus, all the stress that comes with a global pandemic can contribute to an increase in migraine attacks.

If the last several months have given you a headache, you’re not alone. Brian M. Plato, D.O., FAHS, neurologist and headache specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute, warns that the outbreak of the coronavirus/COVID-19 may be playing a role in a recent increase in migraine cases.

“We have seen a slight uptick, and we believe this partially can be attributed to a variety of factors associated with COVID-19. Some of these have affected only those who have been infected with the virus, but others have extended out to impact otherwise healthy migraine patients,” Dr. Plato said.

Headaches are a common symptom of viral infections, and COVID-19 appears to be no exception.

“It’s not unusual to see migraine worsen after getting sick,” Dr. Plato said. “It’s generally believed that the migraine patients’ brains are more sensitive to stimulation and change. The immune system’s response to viruses can create side effects for everyone, but these can be particularly uncomfortable for those who experience migraine.”

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Pandemic stress also may trigger migraine

Even for those who have not been infected with the coronavirus, all the stress that comes with a global pandemic can be difficult when it comes to coping. Fear of getting sick, financial instability, isolation and numerous other disruptions to our ordinary way of life have taken a significant toll on the emotional health of many.

This strain also may be contributing to a rise in migraine cases.

“Anxiety, depression and changes in routine can be a trigger for more frequent migraine,” Dr. Plato said. “Change in routine is a big factor. You not only have the stress associated with things like social distancing or not being able to find certain items at the store, but there’s also changes to sleep, diet and exercise that can trigger migraine as well.”

As some restrictions have loosened, patients have been able to resume in-person treatments. Norton Telehealth also has proven helpful for many migraine patients.

“While we can’t give an injection virtually, we are able to accomplish quite a bit of the other things you would expect from an in-person consultation,” Dr. Plato said. “Follow-up visits especially lend themselves well to telehealth. Many times we’re just talking with patients to get updates on symptoms and responses to treatment or addressing any questions or concerns they may have. Most of this can be done pretty seamlessly in a virtual setting.”

Having as many options as possible will be helpful for patients moving forward, especially considering that the migraine risk factors associated with COVID-19 likely will persist for some time.

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