Cluster headaches are rare when compared to other types of headaches. The pain they produce is severe and tends to recur in the same way each time. They occur in groups, or clusters, and each attack lasts about 1 to 3 hours on average. The frequency of occurrence may range from every other day to multiple times a day. Cluster periods are followed by remissions that may last months or years.
Males are affected by cluster headaches more than females and they typically start around age 30.
Researchers do not know exactly what causes cluster headaches. They seem to be related to the sudden release of histamine or serotonin in the body.
The following may trigger cluster headaches:
These are common symptoms of a cluster headache:
The symptoms of a cluster headache may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Cluster headaches are diagnosed based on your history of a pattern of recurrent bouts of near-daily headache attacks lasting for days, weeks, or months.
A two-pronged approach is necessary for treatment of cluster headaches: aborting an attack and preventing future attacks.
To stop or at least subdue an attack in progress, you may be given high-dose oxygen therapy through a face mask for 15 to 20 minutes. Your doctor may also prescribe a nasal spray called sumatriptan to relieve the severe pain of a cluster headache. Sumatriptan is a selective serotonin receptor agonist. This medicine causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, thereby relieving pain.
The second part of cluster headache treatment is to prevent recurrent attacks by using daily medicine. Several medicines are used to prevent cluster headache attacks:
A true cluster headache is not life threatening and does not cause permanent brain damage. But, they tend to be chronic, recurrent, and can interfere with your lifestyle or work.
To prevent a cluster headache, it’s important to identify what triggers your headaches. Try avoiding smoking and alcohol use. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a medicine regimen that will help prevent cluster headaches.
There are some danger signs that may occur with cluster headaches that warrant immediate medical care. These include:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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