Cluster headaches are also called “suicide headaches” because of the extreme pain that they cause.
Cluster headaches are a rare but devastating form of non-life threatening headaches. These headaches occur in cycles with each cycle lasting weeks to months.
During the cycle headaches can happen as frequently as every day and last for a few minutes to a few hours. After going through a cycle of cluster headaches the sufferer will go into a period of remission. During this period of remission no headaches will occur. A period of remission can last anywhere from several months to years.
How do you know if your headache qualifies as a cluster headache?
The International Headache Society criteria is
“a minimum of 5 attacks in a predictable manner [about the same time every day] with severe unilateral periorbital pain peaking in 10-15 minutes and lasting up to 3 hours plus any of the following on the same side: ptosis, red eye, constricted pupil, tearing, nasal congestion and a runny nose. Attacks can occur several times per day for one to several weeks. Then recurrence may not occur for months.”
The symptoms of a cluster headache are pain that is sudden, severe and on one side of the face. The pain often centers around one eye. This pain can be so intense that patients report feeling as if a hot poker has been stabbed into their eye.
Other symptoms that often occur are:
- excessive tearing
- redness in your eye on the affected side
- stuffy or runny nasal passage in your nostril on the affected side of your face,
- pale skin (pallor) on your face,
- swelling around your eye on the affected side of your face,
- drooping eyelid (ptosis).
Seek emergency care if you have any of these signs and symptoms:
- Abrupt, severe headache, often like a thunderclap
- Headache with a fever, nausea or vomiting, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, numbness, or speaking difficulties, which may indicate a number of problems, including stroke, meningitis, encephalitis or brain tumor
- Headache after a head injury, even if it’s a minor fall or bump, especially if it gets worse.
- A sudden, severe headache unlike any other headache you’ve experienced
- Headache that gets progressively worse over days and changes in pattern
What causes cluster headaches?
Because of the cycles of intense pain, patients who suffer from cluster headaches can be emotionally raw by the time they seek treatment. This is why speaking with a qualified therapist or counselor is very important. These headaches are severe and have earned the nickname suicide headaches for a reason. In addition to individual therapy, there are also support groups available solely for suffers of cluster headaches.
The cause of cluster headaches is unknown. However an abnormality in the hypothalamus may be to blame due to the clockwork like nature of the attacks. Food and hormones do not appear to play a role but with the splitting headaches that can occur with alcohol consumption cluster headache suffers tend to avoid alcohol.
Some factors that may affect or trigger cluster headaches:
- Barometric pressure changes
- Napping in the afternoon
- In males parasympathetic activation and sympathetic suppression
- Family history of cluster headaches
- How do you treat cluster headaches?
Treatments for cluster headaches are often palliative (treatments which relieve the pain and make you feel better) with treatment centering on the relieving the pain.
Standard medical intervention includes several pharmaceutical interventions such as oxygen, triptans and Local anesthetics.
If taken in the evening, 10 Milligrams of Melatonin can help to reduce nighttime episodes.
Alternative treatments such as chiropractic care and acupuncture are most effective at relieving the symptoms of cluster headaches, but are minimally effective at completely resolving the cycles of cluster headaches.
Because of the intense pain, patients who suffer from cluster headaches are often emotionally and physically drained from the cycles by the time they seek treatment.
Chiropractic care can help to relieve tension in the cervical area due to stress and provide nutritional counseling. Nutritional intervention has been shown to be effective in reducing cluster headaches and cycles.
If you are experiencing cluster headaches and wish to discuss your treatments options, please schedule your appointment today.
“Home & News.” International Headache Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.
“Cluster Headache.” Definition. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.