What to know about migraine and COVID-19

Amid growing concerns about the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. and the greater global community, it’s important to both understand the risks and address specific considerations for people living with migraine. There are currently a lot of questions about how much people should be concerned about the virus, so we spoke with American Headache Society member Dr. Mia Minen, a headache specialist and epidemiologist, who shared seven COVID-19 considerations for people living with migraine, as well as some general practices.

Considerations for people living with migraine

While there hasn’t been any research on migraine and COVID-19 as of yet, Dr. Minen doesn’t expect people with migraine who are in good health otherwise to be at an elevated risk. The best practices for limiting infection still apply. The following migraine-specific tips may help those who experience migraine be better prepared and limit the potential for migraine attacks.

Have an adequate supply of your medicine

Dr. Minen recommends that people with migraine have a supply on hand of “both their acute and also any rescue medications or preventative medications they need.” Those who experience migraine should work with their doctors and their insurance companies to see if they can get an adequate supply of the medicine they need. “Some patients of mine have tried and there are issues just from the insurance companies,” she explains, so patients may need to contact their insurance companies directly to determine the best course of action.”

Consider alternatives for in-person doctor visits

Face-to-face doctor visits may not be necessary if patients are stable and no adjustments to their medication are needed. “In terms of seeking headache care at this point, if patients are stable and are on an adequate dosage of medication and they’re doing well, one option might be to write or call their doctor to see if it’s important to still maintain the appointment,” Dr. Minen says. Some institutions offer the option for telemedicine, which helps both patients and doctors maintain social distancing. She also cautions patients, “If anybody is sick or has been exposed to somebody, it would not be prudent to go see their headache specialist right now because there is a huge shortage of masks in this country. Doctors can easily get infected if somebody is symptomatic and that could then also be passed onto the patients. So from a public health perspective, if somebody’s showing symptoms of the virus or exposed to someone with symptoms, they should stay home and contact their doctor by phone or by online messaging.”

Be mindful of routine and diet to reduce migraine triggers

At this time when many find their schedules adjusted to accommodate remote work, those with migraine should make a concentrated effort to stick to a regular schedule when it comes to diet, hydration and sleep. Dr. Minen says, “So it’s important to be cognizant of maintaining hydration and eating regularly scheduled meals throughout as these may oftentimes be triggers for people who have migraine.” Additionally, some people who experience migraine find that particular foods or additives, such as MSG, may be triggers. She says, “This might be a time where you want to stock up on food and want to make sure that you’re going to be able to have foods that you’re able to tolerate that don’t necessarily have food ingredients that could trigger your headaches.”

Stay calm and limit stress

For some people who experience migraine, stress and anxiety can trigger attacks, so it’s important to do what you can to limit these triggers. Dr. Peter Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of headache disorders at UC San Francisco Medical Center, explains, “The migraine brain is vulnerable to change such as sleep and stress, and is therefore best kept stable.” That may mean practicing self-care or reaching out for support to help migraine manage stress or anxiety.

Look for alternative methods of social interaction

Dr. Minen advocates looking for other avenues for staying connected to other people during times of social distancing and isolation. For instance, she recommends video chatting, messaging or taking online educational classes if looking at a screen is not a trigger. These other avenues for social interaction allow for mental stimulation. Visit the Move Against Migraine group on Facebook to stay connected to others with migraine.

General considerations

In addition to following all WHO guidelines in regard to COVID-19, Dr. Minen elaborated on some of the actions people in general can take to both mitigate their risk of exposure and reduce the risk to others.

Practice social distancing

Dr. Minen explains that while everyone who is exposed has a risk of complications, for those who are older or have chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and immunosuppression, the risk is higher. The COVID-19 virus is highly communicable and the current recommended response is to practice social distancing to slow down community transmission. Dr. Minen says, “It’s not going to get rid of the virus right now, but the number of people who can be exposed via community transmission could get elevated very quickly and overload the healthcare system.” She recommends following guidelines to maintain social distance and to not participate in large group activities at this time.

Maintain good hand hygiene

Dr. Minen says maintaining good hand hygiene is key. She explains, “The preferred method is hand washing for at least 20 seconds, which is essentially singing happy birthday twice. If it’s not possible to wash your hands because you’re going to a doctor’s appointment or something like that, you may use hand sanitizer that has over 60% alcohol within it.”

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.