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How Covid-19 — and the Stresses of 2020 — May Be Making Your Migraines Worse

If you’ve been experiencing more headaches this year, you’re not alone. Healthcare providers say they’ve seen an increase in patients suffering from headaches and migraines this year.

A study published in the American Journal of Managed Care found that patients experienced headaches more frequently in 2020 versus 2018-19. In 2018, headache sufferers said they averaged 4.9 headaches per month. Reports for 2020 show that the average has increased to 5.4 headaches per month.

A migraine is a specific type of headache that often includes throbbing pains, light sensitivity and nausea. The Migraine Research Foundation reports that migraines are the third most common illness in the world and the sixth most disabling.

This article will discuss why headaches and migraines may be increasing and cover some headache treatment options you might try.

Why Headaches and Migraines Are on the Rise

Migraines have well-known triggers. Many environmental and health issues can cause or make them worse.

Headaches are one symptom of Covid-19, reported in 13.6% of cases. In fact, a headache is often one of the first symptoms of the virus.

However, there are many other reasons people get headaches that have nothing to do with catching the coronavirus, including:

 Stress and Anxiety

Stress is one common cause of headaches. And yes, 2020 has been a stressful year. The pandemic has swept the globe, and many places are still recording record-high infection rates. Most countries are still partially shut down or are reinstating some lockdown measures.

People are — understandably — worried about their health and concerned about loved ones. But health fears aren’t 2020’s only stressors.

Forest fires have raged through Australia and the U.S., destroying many acres of land and countless homes. The Atlantic tropical season has had 28 named storms so far, and the season isn’t over yet. Pending Brexit trade deals and the U.S. election have created conflict that impacts the world.

Economic uncertainty is keeping stress levels high as well. Everyone is waiting anxiously for a vaccine to prevent Covid. High numbers of unemployed individuals want to get back to work. They need to return to work in order to buy food and pay their bills.

People worldwide want to feel like they can live normal lives again, but no one knows when that will be. It isn’t often the world faces such a high number of stressors all at once.

 Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep is another common cause of headaches and migraines. And with stress levels so high, many people are having trouble with insomnia.

The changes in routine have also disrupted family and individual sleep. Many children are being homeschooled or are attending classes online. Parents have the challenge of working from home and helping their children complete assignments at the same time. This often leaves them burning the midnight oil.

Even in homes without children, adults are finding it harder to keep work hours distinct from personal time. Changes in working and eating habits can inhibit restful sleep, as can poor dietary choices and excessive alcohol consumption.

 Neck Pain

The neck is one area where mental and emotional stress affects the body physically. As we store tension and stress in our bodies, the muscles in our neck and shoulders tighten. This pressure can restrict blood flow to the brain and pinch nerves, which in turn may trigger a headache.

 Migraine Triggers

Migraines have some common triggers. These include:

  • Processed foods

  • Red wine and other types of alcohol

  • Chocolate

  • Caffeine

  • Stress and anxiety

  • Bright lights

  • Changes in the weather

Disruption in sleeping, working and exercise patterns can intensify these migraine triggers. These changes in routine may occur more often with social distancing, new workplace safety measures and working from home.

So it really isn’t a surprise that people are suffering more headaches. But it does leave those who experience headaches, especially migraines, needing more treatment options.

 Treatment Options

The Mayo Clinic lists several categories of possible migraine treatments:

 Lifestyle

If you suffer frequent headaches, the first thing you should do is assess your lifestyle. Keep a diary of your headaches. Include information such as when you have them, activities you recently engaged in and what you’ve been eating or drinking. Knowing your triggers will help you avoid getting migraines.

Getting enough sleep is one way to help ward off migraines. For the most restful sleep, go to bed and get up at roughly the same times each day. Another good habit is to turn off electronics 30 minutes before you turn in.

Make sure you aren’t spending too much time in front of the computer, watching TV or sitting in one place. Try getting up and moving around for a few minutes every hour.

You might also want to take at least one outside walk every day. It doesn’t have to be far or for long. Walking for just 30 minutes daily helps reduce physical tension and stress.

Many migraine sufferers find it beneficial to go someplace calm and quiet as soon as they feel a migraine starting. Identify a soothing retreat ahead of time so you’ll have a place to go when you need it.

 Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications

Some over-the-counter medications are very effective at treating headaches. These include Excedrin, Tylenol and Advil. They are easy to obtain and reasonably inexpensive.

If over-the-counter medicines aren’t taking care of the problem, call your doctor. They can determine whether a prescription medication might be indicated.

Some common migraine prescriptions are:

 Triptans

According to WebMD, drugs in this category can be used to treat migraines in progress. They work like serotonin and can help calm your brain down.

 Antihypertensives or beta blockers

Healthline explains these medicines treat headaches by restricting blood flow in the brain and soothing the nervous system.

 Antidepressants

Per the Mayo Clinic, some antidepressants can help decrease the frequency of migraines and the pain they cause. They do this by regulating the levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin.

 Alternative Treatment Options

Some people who suffer frequent headaches can also benefit from alternative, natural treatment options. These might include acupressure, acupuncture and biofeedback therapy. Essential oils, vitamins and minerals or herbal remedies have likewise been suggested as potential ways to reduce or treat headaches, including migraines.

If you decide to use alternative treatment options, be sure to consult your doctor. Let them know how you are treating your headaches now. This is important, as some natural remedies and medicines are incompatible.

People are reporting more headaches in 2020. That’s understandable given the seriousness of Covid-19 combined with stressors like political discord, wildfires and extreme weather events.

If you are struggling with headaches or migraines, and home remedies aren’t working, contact your medical provider. They may have solutions that will bring relief.

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