The coronavirus can affect every part of the body, from the lungs to the heart and even to the brain. In fact, more and more research has come out about the brain's susceptibility to COVID. And new research is highlighting the fact that one of the most frequent aches people experience could be a neurological symptom in connection to the virus. According to a recent study, a headache may not be something you want to brush off as just a common pain: It could be a sign that you could have a worsening COVID case. Read on to find out why, and if you're concerned about your throbbing head, here's How to Tell If Your Headache Is Actually Coronavirus.
The study, published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology journal on Oct. 5, included 509 coronavirus patients at various Northwestern Medicine hospitals in the Chicago area. Researchers found that nearly 38 percent of these patients experienced headaches at some point in their disease course. According to their findings, those with severe COVID were more likely to experience this neurological symptom and others.
"This is the first study of its kind in the United States," study co-author Igor Koralnik, MD, who oversees the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said in a statement. "There are only two other published papers describing the prevalence of neurological manifestations in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in China and Europe."
Researchers also found that 82 percent of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus experienced neurological symptoms at some point during their disease course, whether at symptom onset or during hospitalization.
However, only around 43 percent experienced the neurological symptoms at the onset of their illness, as opposed to the nearly 63 percent who experienced these symptoms in their time at the hospital. Therefore, headaches—as one of the most common neurological COVID symptoms—could mean your case is progressing to hospitalization.
"Patients with neurologic manifestations experienced longer hospitalization," the study stated. The researchers also concluded that encephalopathy was "associated with a worse functional outcome in hospitalized patients with COVID‐19, and may have lasting effects."
Encephalopathy is a general term for brain disease, damage, or malfunction. According to the study, almost 32 percent of the hospitalized patients ended up having this altered brain function—which often manifests as a headache.
In the end, more than two-thirds of the patients who experienced damaged brain function were unable to take care of themselves for days after leaving hospitalization. On the other hand, 90 percent of patients who did not develop encephalopathy were able to care for themselves following their discharge.
"Patients and clinicians need to be aware of the high frequency of neurologic manifestations of COVID-19 and the severity of altered mental function associated with this disease," Koralnik said. And for more on risk factors for coronavirus complications, This Is Why You Could Be Prone to a Severe Case of COVID.