Cluster Headaches & Cluster Headache Conditions

By: Donald Saunders

Cluster headaches are one of the most painful conditions known and their only saving grace is that they are fortunately quite rare. For example, although about one person in ten of the population suffers from migraine, only about one person in three hundred will experience a cluster headache.

Cluster headaches often appear as what many sufferers describe as a hot and stabbing pain behind just one eye or in the area of the temple. Their main characteristic however is that they follow a timetable and will appear at the same time every day often for several days, or even weeks or months at a time. They also tend to strike without any warning, unlike migraines which are often preceded by a number of different warning signs.

Nobody is quite sure what causes these particularly painful headaches although research tends to favor the theory that they result from abnormalities in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small gland which plays an important part in regulating your body clock and this might explain why these headaches occur at the same time each day.

When we said in the title of this article that cluster headaches are among the most painful conditions known to man this was no accident because another feature of these headaches which sets them apart from migraines is that are seen far more in men than in women. In the case of migraines about three times as many women as men are afflicted but, with cluster headaches, studies show that they are up to eight times more prevalent in men. In particular, they strike men between the ages of about twenty and fifty.

Treatments for normal headaches are almost always ineffective for cluster headaches and this is one class of headache for which you need to seek professional advice from your physician.

One commonly used treatment is to inhale pure oxygen for several minutes once the headache arrives. This particular form of treatment will not work for everybody but usually works very well for those people who do find it helps. It cannot however be used to prevent a headache and is only effective in treating a headache once it has started.

Another very effective treatment is the use of a new class of drugs known as triptans which are currently being used for the treatment of migraines. These drugs do however need to be taken in a very fast acting form to be effective and this often means using them in the form of a nasal spray. However, in many cases cluster headaches can also cause inflammation of the nasal passages rendering this form of treatment difficult. In these cases, triptans can often by administered by injection.

At present there are no good preventative treatments available although some sufferers do find that calcium channel blockers work reasonably well. Also, in very severe cases surgery may be considered as a last resort treatment and several neurological procedures are available including procedures to block certain nerves or to remove part of the brain.

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