Cluster Headaches – The Causes and Treatment

They are the least common of the primary headaches but are by far the most painful. So, what are the causes and potential treatments of cluster headaches …

Causes and Treatment of Cluster Type Headaches

Almost everyone will suffer from some form of headache throughout their life, which doesn’t result from some underlying medical condition. These will either be migraine, tension or cluster type headaches.

A cluster type headache is the least common of the primary headaches but is by far the most painful.

This type of headache has even been dubbed the suicide headache due to the fact that some cluster headache sufferers have eventually resorted to this, as a way of ending the pain.

  • Cluster type headaches get their name because the headaches tend to occur in clusters.
  • They will happen several times per day, lasting for the same amount of time and occuring at the same time per day.
  • They tend to linger for several weeks, will dissipate and then recur with the same frequency and intensity.

Cluster Headache Pain in the Eye Socket

A cluster headache is much more severe than migraine or tension headaches and they often strike without warning on one side of the brain only (unilateral), with pain behind the eye of the affected region. The pain tends to last for an hour or less but the headaches strike several times each day.

The causes of cluster type headaches is unknown but what is known is that the blood flows abnormally in the affected area, causing the blood vessels to dilate and this in turn puts pressure on the trigeminal nerve.

Sufferers of this type of headache generally find relief by staying active, rather than motionless, as with migraine or tension headaches.

Men are five times as likely as women to suffer from cluster type headaches.

Cluster Headache Symptoms include: drooping eyelid, watery eyes and blocked nasal passages. In fact, many doctors misdiagnose the cluster type headache as sinus headaches.

There are recognised triggers for the cluster form headache type, which include …

  • Fatigue or lack of sleep
  • sleep apnea
  • snoring
  • nitroglycerine
  • stress
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • and some foods

Cluster Headache Diagnosis

In order to diagnose this type of headache your doctor should perform a physical examination as well as a medical history, as some cluster headaches are genetic. Your doctor may also run a CT or MRI to rule out any secondary condition causing the headache.

Just like migraines, cluster headaches are regarded as episodic or chronic.

There is a seasonal rhythm to this headache type and many headache sufferers are affected more during the spring or fall.

The headaches generally occurs several times a day at the same time of day, with many activated during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is why some sufferers will try NOT to sleep to avoid the headache, but that just keeps the cycle going.

Several studies have been performed on cluster headache sufferers and one common theme has come forward – sleep apnea and excessive snoring seem to be the most common triggers. Both of these involve a lack of oxygen to the brain. Once this condition was treated, researchers found that the cluster headaches subsided, most of the time.

While pain relief medication is most often prescribed to treat the problem, most pain medication will only relieve the pain – it won’t prevent the headache or cure the cause.

The preventative medicines that currently exist for cluster headaches, tend to come with potentially serious side effects. However, oxygen therapy is one natural and effective treatment that you could try once a cluster headache has begun.

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