Lockdown measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to lifestyle changes, which in turn may have an impact on the course of headache disorders. We aimed to assess changes in primary headache characteristics and lifestyle factors during the COVID-19 lockdown in Germany using digital documentation in the mobile application (app) M-sense.
We analyzed data of smartphone users, who entered daily data in the app in the 28-day period before lockdown (baseline) and in the first 28 days of lockdown (observation period). This analysis included the change of monthly headache days (MHD) in the observation period compared to baseline. We also assessed changes in monthly migraine days (MMD), the use of acute medication, and pain intensity. In addition, we looked into the changes in sleep duration, sleep quality, energy level, mood, stress, and activity level. Outcomes were compared using paired t-tests. The analysis included data from 2325 app users. They reported 7.01 ± SD 5.64 MHD during baseline and 6.89 ± 5.47 MHD during lockdown without significant changes (p > 0.999). MMD, headache and migraine intensity neither showed any significant changes. Days with acute medication use were reduced from 4.50 ± 3.88 in the baseline to 4.27 ± 3.81 in the observation period (p < 0.001). The app users reported reduced stress levels, longer sleep duration, reduced activity levels, along with a better mood, and an improved energy level during the first lockdown month (p ≤ 0.001). In an extension analysis of users who continued to use M-sense every day for 3 months after initiation of lockdown, we compared the baseline and the subsequent months using repeated-measures ANOVA. In these 539 users, headache frequency did not change significantly neither (6.11 ± 5.10 MHD before lockdown vs. 6.07 ± 5.17 MHD in the third lockdown month, p = 0.688 in the ANOVA). Migraine frequency, headache and migraine intensity, and acute medication use were also not different during the entire observation period.
Despite slight changes in factors that contribute to the generation of headache, COVID-19-related lockdown measures did not seem to be associated with primary headache frequency and intensity over the course of 3 months.