The history of Cluster Headaches
Cluster Headaches: Medicine’s Mystery Malady
In The Beginning
Humankind has always suffered from headaches. The first written records discussing cluster headaches were in the mid-1600s. At that time, the headaches were described by the intensity of the pain or given the name of the author describing them. Wilfred Harris, a British neurologist, was among the first to accurately describe the episodic nature of the headaches. Later, in 1939, Dr. Bayard Taylor Horton, a US neurologist, further described the characteristics of the severe headaches. For a while, they were known as Horton’s cephalalgia. By 1952, researchers fully understood the nature of cluster headaches and gave them the name still in use
Cluster headaches often include severe pain in one eye. Researchers have long theorized that the pain is caused by dilation of the blood vessels around that eye. They also suspect that the nerves behind the eye and nearby areas are inflamed. The inflammation is believed to put pressure on the nerves, which then emit pain impulses. The unanswered question is what causes the dilation and inflammation in the first place.
Investigators have discovered that smoking and consuming alcohol can trigger a cluster headache, but stopping either doesn’t relieve the headache. Stress is another trigger. Genetics may or may not be a factor. There’s is evidence that cluster headaches result from brain activity, particularly in the hypothalamus, or a malfunction in the nervous system.
What is known is that cluster headaches occur in men more often than women, although we don’t know why. Cluster headaches occur most often on one side of the face, although we don’t know the why of that either. Cluster headaches differ from migraines, although a handful of people suffers from both. The one conclusion that’s safe to make about cluster headaches is that no one really knows yet what causes you to experience them.
My Head Really Hurts
The primary symptom of cluster headaches is intense, unrelenting pain. It often strikes without warning. You may experience other symptoms such as facial sweating or swelling of your eye, a runny nose, or restlessness. You may find that you can’t tolerate light or sound. Lying down usually increases cluster headache pain.
The frequency with which the clusters occur and the number of headaches within the cluster vary from person to person. You may experience clusters that happen randomly, on a regular timetable, or chronically. For some people, the headache cycles may be years apart. For others, mere hours may elapse between episodes. Most people experience cluster headaches between these two extremes.
Make The Pain Go Away
Treatment for cluster headaches is iffy. You may go for years before you get an accurate diagnosis. Not knowing the cause is another reason there isn’t an effective treatment.
Medical professionals rely on relieving your pain, because there is no cure. A variety of drugs is available for pain relief. Steroids can sometimes offer immediate relief, but fail in long-term relief. Opioids are known to worsen the pain. Surgery is controversial as it increased the headaches in a few people.
Oxygen therapy is helpful for many people. Therapies like biofeedback, stress management, and relaxation techniques can be effective. TENS treatment is currently being studied.
Experts recommend that you keep a headache diary. Doing so can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis. A diary can help you learn what triggers your headaches. Avoiding those triggers is the best preventive available to you. When all is said and done, modern medicine doesn’t offer much more help than historical practitioners offered. The cause and effective treatment of cluster headaches remain a mystery.