cluster headache

The Ultimate Cluster Headache Cheat Sheet

A cluster headache appears on one part of the head. It mainly appears either behind, above the eye or around the head. The pain appears unexpectedly and is accompanied by nasal congestion, sweating, drooping eyelids, and watery eye on the side experiencing the pain. The pain may last from fifteen minutes to three hours with the likelihood of recurring up to eight times a day. This type of headache may have genetic element although the main cause is not known yet.


Who is More Prone to A Cluster Headache


Men are known to be experiencing cluster headaches more than women. Since the condition is rare, little information is available. Its prevalence rate is roughly one per a thousand people. The majority of the people who experience the condition are adults, but there have been cases of children below five years.


Symptoms of A Cluster Headache


Cluster headaches vary regarding where they occur for different people. For a majority, pain is behind or around the eye. Although this is not very common, the pain may spread to the ear, shoulder or the neck. It may also radiate through the forehead into the jaw, the gum and the teeth. A runny and a swelling nose are also common characteristics.


Causes of Cluster Headaches


What causes cluster headache condition is unclear, but a certain theory states that the hypothalamus becomes overactive during the attack. It releases neurotransmitters that stimulate brain nerve cells causing pain. According to this theory, the vessels become dilated as a result of being overactive. The dilated blood vessels exert pressure on the brain tissues neighboring them resulting to pain.

Although most the cluster headaches happen suddenly with no reason, in some cases they may have some triggers. It is, therefore, important to avoid cues such as alcohol, loud music, hot rooms and smelling strong substances. In rare cases, cluster headaches may be caused by tumors in the brain.


Diagnosis and Treatment of Cluster Headaches


There is no specific test to the condition, but the diagnosis is mainly based on the above-stated symptoms. The tests are only done to rule other possible causes of the headache. A brain scan will help rule out a possibility of pituitary adenoma.

Treatments are divided into two. Treatment to relieve the pain and treatment aimed at preventing the pain.

Ordinary painkillers take longer to work, and the pain is usually over by the time the painkillers are effective. Sumatriptan is the commonly used treatment and is given through injection under the skin. It takes about fifteen minutes to relieve the pain. The injection should be used immediately the headache begins. The medicine works by causing interference on a brain chemical known as 5HT. 5HT is the chemical involved in cluster and migraine headaches. Other injections are the one hundred percent oxygen therapy and the Zolmitriptan nasal spray.

Other medicines are taken to prevent cluster headaches. However, with the preventive treatment, it is hard to know the severity or the frequency of the headaches. The following are some of the medicines used for preventing the headaches.


  • Lithium: mainly used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. It is very effective in the prevention of chronic cluster headache.


  • Verapamil: it is commonly used in the treatment of heart diseases. It is also effective in preventing cluster headaches.


While treatment is continued to the point where a headache disappears, preventive treatment is used alternatingly.

With these tips, you can be able to identify symptoms, prevent or treat cluster headaches and know the difference between a migraine and other types of headaches.