Many Americans have dealt with new, stressful situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Loss of work, isolation, lack of exercise and routines, and much more. Now, headache and migraine specialists across the country say those new stresses are bringing in more patients to their offices.
"This has been the perfect storm for people who suffer from migraines. First of all, we know stress and anxiety and depression can increase even the amount of headaches. Certainly, people who aren't even anxious or depressed before are experiencing this," said Dr. Charisse Litchman, a headache specialist and neurologist at Stamford Health in Connecticut.
Dr. Litchman also serves as a medical adviser for Nurx, a digital practice for women's health that's just started doing home delivery of migraine medications to help patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Litchman says triggers from the pandemic, including a spike in stress on top of irregular sleep and diet, has prompted the increase in patients where she works.
"I would say we are given a great deal, maybe 20% more [headache] patients reaching out for help who had never reached out before," said Dr. Litchman.
Dr. Litchman says she's also seen more headache and migraine patients who were coping well before the pandemic, but suddenly needed help again.
Dr. Merle Diamond with Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago agrees.
"I'm actually seeing some people I haven't seen in three to four years. And they were like, 'I was doing fine,' and I'm like 'yes, these are really challenging times,'" explained Dr. Diamond.
Diamond Headache has also seen a 20% increase in patients since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think patients' schedules are being disrupted in this piece. I think the anxiety, everything going on. I also think that we don't have a lot of our other outlets going on. We can't watch sports, there's just a lot of changes and I think that's been really difficult for patients," said Dr. Diamond.
Dr. Diamond has some pieces of advice for those experiencing increased headaches or migraines during this time. The first and most important is to get a diagnosis and plan for treatment from a doctor. The second is to get into a regular routine.
"When you have a migraine, one of the things we know about a migraine brain is it likes things regular. So you've gone from going into the office where your day job is and now you're working from home and managing all those home issues at the same time. So try to keep yourself on as reasonable a schedule as you can," said Dr. Diamond.
Also, don't skip meals, keep yourself hydrated and lower caffeine intake.