If internet searches are anything to go by, Kenya reported the second highest cases of headaches, followed by South Africa worldwide in statistics running from early 2020.
A detailed analysis of web searches over the six months running between February 2020 to July 2020 shows that across the world, the term ‘headache was most searched in the Philippines, Kenya, and South Africa, in that order.
Much as headaches were a potential symptom of Covid-19, experts pointed to other contributing factors including stress, anxiety and spending excessive amounts of time on computers and phones.
Other kinds of headaches were tied to high blood pressure, stroke, brain abnormalities.
The analysis of Google Trend data showed that searches for ‘headache’ jumped the highest in April 2020, the time around which Kenya went into lockdown.
The searches dipped in May, but still remained above the pre-pandemic level.
“We notice that before the pandemic outbreak, the highest query shares are encountered in the Philippines, followed by South Africa and the US,” researchers who analysed the data said.
Google Trends is an online platform that displays the popularity of a search term in a given region over a certain period of time.
“On the other hand, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the highest query shares are reported in the Philippines, Kenya, and South Africa,” the researchers said.
The results were published in Nature journal, under an article dubbed, ‘Infodemiological Study on the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Increased Headache Incidences at the World Level‘.
The researchers hailing from the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, came to the conclusion that observing internet search habits provides timely information for policymakers on collective health trends.
The research noted that while the rising trend in headache incidence would have continued in the absence of the pandemic, Covid-19 was a major contributer to its acceleration.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health reported headache as a symptom of mild Covid-19, which could partly explain the increased activity on this query.
“The most common symptoms of Covid-19 include cough, loss of smell and/or taste, fever, difficulty in breathing, and headache,” the ministry says in its guidelines on Covid-19 case management.
According to some psychologists, headaches can also be blamed on stress and the uncertainty from the lockdown.
A family health physician at Aga Khan University Hospital, Dr Margarita Mwai, noted that headaches could also be a symptom of an underlying physical problem.
“If you experience a headache during or after exercise that lasts at least a day and sometimes lingers for several days or longer, consult your doctor,” she said.
Dr Mwai noted that headaches are classified into either primary or secondary headaches.
Primary headaches are sparked by things including fasting, alcohol, caffeine and caffeine withdrawal, stress, too little or too much sleep, menstruation, fatigue, change in weather, head trauma, exposure to bright lights, loud noises, smoke, and strong scents and foods among others.
Secondary headaches, however, may make one experience longer-lasting headaches, dizziness, unsteadiness, and fainting.
“Headaches are often underdiagnosed and or undertreated. Some patients can benefit from early recognition and elimination of factors that trigger their headaches,” Dr Mwai said.
“Patients and their healthcare providers may need to experiment to find optimal medications and dosages for managing headaches associated pain.”