Cluster headaches are very severe and debilitating headaches that have some similarities to migraines. In fact a lot of lay people may call them cluster migraines. They are similar to migraines in the fact that they cause pain on one side of the head and tend to cause pain behind one eye. People usually say they feel like they feel like someone stuck a hot poker in their eye. As with migraines, the pain can radiate down the side of the head to the neck and shoulder as well. Cluster headaches can also cause nausea and vomiting.
However there are some very big differences as well. Cluster headaches tend to hit and go on for a long period of time. They may last for days, weeks or months then stop and not reappear for months or even years. Cluster headaches normally last from one to up to twelve weeks. They also tend to start at the same time of year or be in the same season such as start in the spring or fall of the year. Cluster headaches can last anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes up to three hours. These types of headaches happen every day and usually at the same time of day. Cluster headaches tend to occur more late at night especially after 10pm. These headaches very rapidly just like they began. They leave the sufferer pain free but exhausted.
The symptoms of a cluster headache include extremely severe pain in one side of the head usually behind the eye. The pain can spread from the eye down to the ear and neck. There is pain, tearing and redness around the eye that the headache is affecting. The person who has the headache tends to sweat profusely during a headache. The pupil in the eye may be decreased in size and the eyelid may droop. As stated above, most people complain they feel like someone stuck a hot poker in their eye. People with cluster headaches are very restless. Unlike people with migraines, they do not want to lie down, they usually feel if they do so the headache will get much worse.
The cause of cluster headaches is unknown at this time however researchers feel that there is a connection to the hypothalamus as these headaches are clearly connected to the body clock. The hypothalamus is what controls much of the body’s biological clock so they feel that the two are connected in some way. Some studies have been done that show activity in the hypothalamus is abnormally increased when a cluster headache occurs. Other research has linked some abnormal hormone levels to cluster headaches. Scientists found that some people had abnormal levels of cortical and melatonin in their blood when they had cluster headaches occurring.
So who is at risk of cluster headaches? Unlike migraines men are much more likely to have cluster headaches than women. Cluster headaches usually occur when people get into their late 20’s but an occur at any age. Cluster headaches occur in black adults much more than they do white adults. People who have a family history of cluster headaches have a higher risk of having cluster headaches. Those who smoke or drink alcohol are at a higher risk of having cluster headaches as well.
Treatment for cluster headaches can include breathing 100% oxygen for a few minutes can stop a cluster headache. However it is not feasible for most people to carry around an oxygen tank with them. Triptans such as Imitrex in either injectible form or nasal sprays can be effective in relieving cluster headaches. This medication should not be used for anyone who has high blood pressure. Octreotide is an injectible synthetic version of a brain hormone somatostatin. This can be used for people who have high blood pressure safely during a cluster headache.
There are some preventable medications that can be used when a cluster headache starts. Physicians usually use a combination of two different drugs one that is long term medication and one short term medication. The long term medication is used during the cluster headache and then afterwards. Medications used for this are calcium channel beta blockers and lithium carbonate. Short term medications include oral steroids, ergotamines and nerve blocks.
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