Diagnosis and Treatment of Painful Cluster Headache
Are you experiencing symptoms of cluster headache? Would you like a definitive diagnosis and an effective cluster headache treatment plan? Because not as much is known about cluster headache as other types of headache, and because the pain is so severe, you need to find a headache doctor with the expertise to diagnose and treat this disorder. The Diamond Headache Clinic is where you’ll find the best headache doctors in the U.S., including cluster headache specialists with years of experience.
What Are the Symptoms of Cluster Headache?
Cluster headache is the least common and probably the most painful type of primary headache condition. It occurs mostly in men and the average age at onset is 20 – 40 years. Cluster headache sufferers may be more likely to smoke, use or misuse alcohol and more likely to suffer from depression.
Patients experience symptoms that differ from those of a migraine, including an intense, stabbing pain around the eye or temple, lasting up to three hours. Cluster headache attacks occur in cycles — from once every other day up to eight times a day. While cluster periods are usually separated by remission periods lasting for months or years, about 10% – 15% of patients experience chronic symptoms without remissions. Symptoms may include:
- Severe or very severe unilateral (on one side only) pain
- Pain that occurs near or above the bone framing the eye and/or at the temple, and sometimes toward the back of the head
- At least one of the following on the same side as the pain: red eye, eyelid swelling, forehead and facial sweating, tearing, abnormally small pupil size, nasal congestion, runny nose and drooping eyelid
- Restlessness or agitation during attacks
How Is Cluster Headache Diagnosed?
Although distinguishing cluster headache from migraine headache may be difficult, a proper diagnosis is essential because the effective treatment for each type varies considerably. There are no specific diagnostic tests, so visiting a cluster headache specialist is vital. Family and patient medical history, particularly the headache length and pattern, must be evaluated carefully before making the diagnosis. During a physical exam, the patient may show signs of irritation of the nerves that go to the affected eye, even between attacks. Brain imaging (scans) with and without contrast is necessary to arrive at an initial diagnosis.
Cluster Headache Treatment Options
Several alternative cluster headache treatments have been shown to be effective in providing cluster headache relief in the short term (acute treatment) and over the long term (prevention).
- Acute Treatment. Commonly used therapies to shorten or halt a cluster attack include oxygen taken by mask while sitting up, and specific drugs that are taken nasally or by injection.
- Prevention. Several drugs are commonly used as preventive medications for cluster headache. Your physician will prescribe the right one(s) for your headache and other health conditions.