Do you experience cycles of headaches followed by headache-free periods? You might be experiencing Cluster Headaches.
Cluster headaches are severely painful headaches that occur in clusters.
The frequency of these headaches can range from one headache a day to several headaches per day.
Moreover, pain due to cluster headaches can be extremely severe.
Most often, adults and middle-aged people suffer from these headaches, however, they can occur at any age.
Bouts of cluster attacks or cluster periods can last even from weeks to months followed by remission periods when they stop.
It is important to note that during remission, no headaches occur for months or even years.
Fortunately enough, cluster headaches are rare and not life-threatening.
Treatment can make the attacks shorter and less severe.
Additionally, you can also use certain medications to reduce the number of headaches you have.
Keep on reading to learn more about Cluster Headaches in detail.
Signs and Symptoms of Cluster Headaches
Cluster headache strikes quickly and usually without any warning sign.
The excruciating pain that is generally present in, behind, or around one aye, however, may radiate to other areas of your face.
One-sided pain, restlessness, excessive tearing, redness of your eye on the affected sides, stuffy or runny nose, forehead, or facial sweating on the affected side.
Moreover, pale skin or pallor, or flushing of the face, swelling around the eye, and drooping eyelid are the common signs and symptoms of cluster headache.
It is important to note that if you have cluster headaches, you are most likely to pace or sit, and rock back and forth unlike migraines.
Moreover, some migraine-like symptoms are sensitivity to light and sound that occurs usually on one side.
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Cluster Period Characteristics
A cluster period usually lasts for several weeks to months, The initial date and duration of each cluster period can be consistent from one period to another.
For instance, cluster periods can occur seasonally like every spring or every fall.
You can also have episodic cluster headaches.
In episodic cluster headaches, the headache usually occurs from 1 week to a year, followed by a pain-free remission period.
This remission period can last as long as 12 months before another cluster develops.
Moreover, chronic cluster periods may continue for more than a year or pain-free periods might be less than a month.
It is important to note that during a cluster period:
The headache usually occurs every day, sometimes several times a day, a single attack can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours, and it can occur at the same time each day.
Most attacks occur usually at night for 1 to 2 hours after you go to bed.
Additionally, the pain usually ends as suddenly it begins, with rapidly decreasing intensity.
After attacks, you are exhausted and pain-free.
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Causes of Cluster Headaches
The pain from cluster headaches is usually the result of dilation or widening of the blood vessels that supply blood to your brain and face.
This dilation or widening applies pressure to the trigeminal nerve, which transmits sensations from your face to the brain.
However, it is unknown why this dilation or widening occurs in the first place.
Many researchers are of the view that abnormalities in the hypothalamus, a small of your brain that regulates the body temperature, blood pressure, sleep, and the release of hormones may be responsible for cluster headaches.
Moreover, you may also experience these headaches by a sudden release of the chemicals histamine, which fights allergens, or serotonin which regulates your mood.
Risks for cluster headaches are as follows: Sex: Men are more likely to have cluster headaches than women.
Age: most individuals develop cluster headaches between the age of 20 to 50.
However, the condition can develop at any age.
Smoking: If you are a smoker, then you are more likely to have a higher risk of developing cluster headaches.
However, quitting smoking usually have no effect on these headaches.
Family History: If either or both or parents or any one of your siblings has cluster headaches, then it might increase your risk of having it as well.
Use of Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can increase a cluster period attack if you already have them.
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Diagnosis of Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches have characteristic pain and pattern of attacks that make them different from other types of headaches.
Moreover, the diagnosis depends on your description of attacks, including the pian, the location, and the severity of your headaches as well as associated symptoms.
The frequency of headaches or how often they occur and how long they last also are important diagnosis factors.
Your doctor will likely try to pinpoint the type and cause of headaches using different approaches.
A neurological examination may help your doctor detect the physical signs of a neurological disorder.
The exam is usually normal if you have cluster headaches and they will use a series of procedures to access the functions of your brain, including tests for your senses, reflexes, and nerves.
If you have an unusual or abnormal neurological examination, then your doctor will recommend other tests.
These tests help to rule out other potential and serious causes of head pain, like a tumor, or an aneurysm.
Common brain image tests are:
MRI: It helps to produce detailed images of your brain and blood vessels.
CT Scan: Creates detailed cross-sectional images of your brain.
Treatment Option: Pain Medication
Treatment of cluster headaches involves relieving and preventing your headache symptoms using pain medications.
However, in a few cases, pain relief and preventive treatment do not work and the doctor may recommend surgery.
This medication helps to relieve your headache once it begins.
- Oxygen: Breathing 100% pure oxygen when the headache begins can help relieve the symptoms of cluster headaches.
- Triptan Medications: A nasal spray medication, or sumatriptan, Imitrex or other medications of this family constrict blood vessels that help to ease your headaches.
- DHE: An injected medication or dihydroergotamine, DHE can help relieve such headaches within 5 minutes of usage. However, you cannot use this medication with sumatriptan.
- Capsaicin Cream: You can use this topical cream by applying it to the painful area.
Treatment Option: Preventive Medication
Preventive medication can help stop these headaches before they even start.
These medications may not be 100% effective, however, they can help reduce the frequency of your headaches. These include:
Blood Pressure Medications: Medications like propranolol or verapamil can help relax the blood vessels.
Steroid Medications: Steriods like prednisone can help reduce nerve inflammation.
Ergotamine: Helps to keep your blood vessels from dilating.
Anti-seizure medications: These are topiramate and valproic acid
Lithium carbonate and muscle relaxants like baclofen.
Surgery is rarely recommended by doctors, however, it may be necessary if you have chronic cluster headaches.
Moreover, if you do not find relief with aggressive treatment or are unable to tolerate the side effects of medications, then you may need surgery.
Sphenopalatine ganglion stimulation is a procedure that involves placing an implant or neurotransmitter that is operated by a hand-held controller.
Some of the research shows that it is quick pain relief and a lower frequency of headaches.
Several small studies conclude that occipital nerve stimulation on one or both sides can be helpful. This involves planting an electrode next to or both of the optical nerves.
However, some surgical procedures for cluster headaches attempt to damage the nerve pathways that are thought to be responsible for pain.
Most commonly your doctor will place it around the trigeminal nerve that serves the area behind and around your eye.
It is important to note that the long-term benefits of destructive procedures are disputed.
Also, as there are different complications including muscle weakness in your jaw or sensory loss in certain areas of your face and head, it is rarely recommended.
Home Remedies for Cluster Headaches
To this date, there are a few home remedies that are effective and no known cures.
However, there is limited scientific information on home remedies for cluster headaches that might be helpful but are not proven with research.
According to a review, the research concludes that evidence for the use of alternative treatments in cluster headaches was lacking or requires more research.
The following are some of the home remedies available:
Melatonin is a hormone that your body uses to regulate your sleeping patterns.
Moreover, if you have cluster headaches, then the levels of melatonin are often low. Such supplements at the doses of 10 to 25 milligrams can help prevent these headaches when you take them before bedtime.
Deep Breathing Exercises
The main treatment for cluster headaches is oxygen therapy and getting enough oxygen into your bloodstream can help calm your body and help manage the ain.
Box breathing and pursed-lip breathing are also powerful stress-relieving techniques.
Low magnesium levels are associated with some types of headaches, therefore, you may consider taking magnesium supplements or intake of foods high in magnesium can help.
Kudzu extracts are botanical supplements that come from the kudzu vine can help cluster headaches.
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Cluster headaches are not life-threatening, however, there is no cure for them. You can prevent them by avoiding tobacco, high altitudes, strenuous activities, hot weather, hot baths, foods that contain high amounts of nitrates and drugs.
With the above treatments and home remedies, your headaches become less frequent and less painful over time, or they may also disappear eventually.