Headache as an acute and post-COVID-19 symptom in COVID-19 survivors: A meta-analysis of the current literature

Eur J Neurol. 2021 Nov;28(11):3820-3825. doi: 10.1111/ene.15040. Epub 2021 Aug 8.


Background: Headache is identified as a common post-COVID sequela experienced by COVID-19 survivors. The aim of this pooled analysis was to synthesize the prevalence of post-COVID headache in hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients recovering from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Methods: MEDLINE, CINAHL, PubMed, EMBASE, and Web of Science databases, as well as medRxiv and bioRxiv preprint servers, were searched up to 31 May 2021. Studies or preprints providing data on post-COVID headache were included. The methodological quality of the studies was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Random effects models were used for meta-analytical pooled prevalence of post-COVID headache. Data synthesis was categorized at hospital admission/symptoms' onset, and at 30, 60, 90, and ≥180 days afterwards.

Results: From 9573 studies identified, 28 peer-reviewed studies and 7 preprints were included. The sample was 28,438 COVID-19 survivors (12,307 females; mean age: 46.6, SD: 17.45 years). The methodological quality was high in 45% of the studies. The overall prevalence of post-COVID headache was 47.1% (95% CI 35.8-58.6) at onset or hospital admission, 10.2% (95% CI 5.4-18.5) at 30 days, 16.5% (95% CI 5.6-39.7) at 60 days, 10.6% (95% CI 4.7-22.3) at 90 days, and 8.4% (95% CI 4.6-14.8) at ≥180 days after onset/hospital discharge. Headache as a symptom at the acute phase was more prevalent in non-hospitalized (57.97%) than in hospitalized (31.11%) patients. Time trend analysis showed a decreased prevalence from the acute symptoms' onset to all post-COVID follow-up periods which was maintained afterwards.

Conclusion: This meta-analysis found that the prevalence of post-COVID headache ranged from 8% to 15% during the first 6 months after SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; headache; meta-analysis; post-COVID; prevalence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Female
  • Headache / epidemiology
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Survivors