What is a cluster headache?
Patients suffering from this type of headache describe unbearable attacks of pain located on one side of the face, usually around the eye or in the temple, often accompanied by lacrimation or a runny nose. There can be redness in the eye or eyelid closure.
To know more about this rare, but extremely painful headache, download this PDF: cluster headache. You can also watch attacks filmed by patients suffering from this disease; search for “cluster headache” on Youtube. Patients suffering from this type of headache describe unbearable attacks of pain located on one side of the face, usually around the eye or in the temple, often accompanied by lacrimation or a runny nose. There can be redness in the eye or eyelid closure. Pain is often described as a hot knife going through the eyeball, and with such intensity that patients can get suicidal during the attack. It is recognised in medicine as one of the most intense forms of pain, far worse than giving birth, according to women suffering from cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are more unbearable than the worst migraine attacks. Like migraines, these headaches are caused by an electrical and chemical problem, not by a lesion, tumour or scar in the brain. For patients suffering from cluster headaches, it seems unbelievable that they are not caused by a serious health problem. A fascinating aspect of this disease is its cyclicity, i.e. attacks occur during specific seasons or hours. This has lead researchers to link the cause of this disease to the hypothalamus, where the biological clock, which manages sleep-wake cycles, is located. Most patients go through active periods, during which attacks are recurrent, interspersed with long periods of remission. One patient out of 10 has attacks on a regular basis. Men are 5 times more likely to be affected than women. One person out of 2000 suffers from this disease. It is frequent that patients suffering from cluster headaches consult doctors for years without receiving a proper diagnosis. They can meet with ophthalmologists, ENT doctors, dentists… this rare disease is not well known. What are the most common treatments for this type of headache? Usual treatments against pain are not really effective against cluster headaches. Most of the time, attacks can be stopped with an injection of sumatriptan (Imitrex), as it works rapidly. Oxygen by face mask can be used, and it is quite effective. Pills can be prescribed to decrease the frequency of attacks. Verapamil (which prevents veins from contracting), lithium and sometimes prednisone are used. An injection in the greater occipital nerve can also help some patients.