Are Headaches Signs of COVID-19?
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory infection, and when you think of the symptoms, you might typically think of cough, shortness of breath and, possibly, a sore throat. But what if you are experiencing some ailments that aren’t typical respiratory symptoms? Maybe you are experiencing a headache or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Should you be worried you have COVID-19?
According to the CDC, headache is considered a symptom of COVID-19. In addition to these symptoms, the CDC also list:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Reports have shown the headaches may be present early or later within the COVID-19 infection phase. However, headaches might be less common than your typical symptoms, including fever and shortness of breath. The CDC recently reported that 9.6% - 21.3% of COVID-19 hospitalized patients reported symptoms of headache, with ages 18-49 reporting it more frequently.
Headaches can be caused by a variety of issues, so just because you have a headache does not mean you have COVID-19. A recent study found that COVID-19 patients reported having moderate to severe headache that were bilateral. These headaches often had a pulsating or pressing quality, which could be worsened by bending over. Participants often felt their headaches in the temporoparietal region, a part of the brain where the temporal and parietal lobes meet, or sometimes more towards the front on the forehead, the periorbital area around the eyes and the sinuses. What may separate the COVID-19 headache from your typical migraine are symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, which are common with your everyday migraine but are not typical with COVID-19 patients. It is also important to keep track of other symptoms you may be experiencing.
Some people with COVID-19 develop gastrointestinal symptoms either alone or with respiratory symptoms.
Stanford University researchers found that a third of patients they studied with a mild case of COVID-19 had symptoms affecting the digestive system.
Researchers in Beijing recently published a study that found anywhere from 3 to 79 percent of people with COVID-19 develop gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and abdominal pain. These can occur even in the absence of other flu-like symptoms.
Do you have a fever or shortness of breath that are common with COVID-19? If so, you should:
- Contact your medical provider to see if further testing is needed.
- Self-isolate and distance yourself from others
- Keep track of your symptoms to ensure they are not worsening. If they are, contact your medical provider immediately or call 911 for medical emergencies. Inform them you may have COVID-19.
If you get tested for COVID-19 after experiencing headache symptoms and you are waiting on your results, the best thing to do is self-isolate at home. If your physician thinks you can self-treat at home, there are some remedies that might help with your headache symptoms:
- Take over the counter medication, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol, to help with any pain and to help reduce fever if a fever is present.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure you are drinking enough fluids to ensure you are not dehydrated.
- Get adequate sleep. If you are experiencing severe pain from your headache, try laying down and get some rest.
- Apply a cold compress to your head. This may help relieve some of the pain, and if you have a fever, cool you down, too.
For gastrointestinal symptoms, limit your diet to clear liquids in frequent, small amounts. Slowly introduce solid food when possible.
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website