AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

Headaches are all-around bad things; even if you’re the truest kind of optimist, there is nothing positive to be found in throbbing temples, sensitive eyes, and the many other symptoms of a common headache.

With their general awfulness in mind, consider that some people suffer from a series of headaches over the course of days and weeks – so-called “cluster headaches.” Taking the downsides of an average headache and multiplying them over and over again, cluster headaches affect sufferers several times per day over a period lasting weeks, or even months, often presenting as even more intense than a migraine.

Their symptoms and their longevity combine to make cluster headaches a cause of both physical and mental anguish; if you suspect you may be suffering from them, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the enemy.

The Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

If you suspect that you may suffer from cluster headaches, the clear and, in some cases, unique symptoms associated with them should make it fairly simple to identify them and plan a trip to the doctor.

First and foremost among these symptoms is the fact that all pain associated with cluster headaches typically occurs on only one side of the face at a time, moving from side to side throughout a series of onsets, typically between one and three headaches per day. The attacks will generally flare up over a series of weeks or months before disappearing, and most sufferers report that the cluster headaches return during the same period each year – for example, during the summer months.

The pain itself is usually reported to be a throbbing, intense burning behind and around the eye, radiating outwards to affect the entire face at times. Each headache lasts an average of 60 minutes, but can range anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours; outside of these times, most patients report being absolutely pain free until the onset of the next headache.

Because they occur on such a regular schedule and often at night, cluster headaches are commonly called “alarm clock headaches” for their proficiency in waking sufferers up each night during the cluster period, often at exactly the same time each night.

How Cluster Headaches Originate

Given their relative rareness – only one in 1,000 people suffer from them – cluster headaches are notoriously difficult to study, and this has left scientists will no clear idea as to what causes them in the first place. On the other hand, MRI technology has allowed researchers to view the physical processes that lie beneath them, giving us a good understanding as to the mechanisms involved in the onset of a cluster headache.

Cluster headaches occur when the trigeminal-autonomic pathway, a nerve pathway in the base of the brain responsible for sensations in the face, is activated. The activation of this pathway stimulates other nearby nerves, resulting in very particular eye pain, along with redness and tearing, sinus congestion, a runny nose, and ringing in the ears.

Modern imaging technology indicates that the hypothalamus has a role to play in causing cluster headaches, potentially activating the trigeminal-autonomic pathway itself. Given cluster headaches’ reliability as far as scheduling goes, this makes good sense; the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates our schedule and tells us when it’s time to sleep, giving it a very good handle on timing.

How to Treat Cluster Headaches

While our general lack of insight into the root mechanics behind cluster headaches leaves them currently incurable, there are medications that are commonly prescribed to sufferers that aim to reduce symptoms, and even prevent or shorten them in some cases.

If you believe that you may be experiencing cluster headaches, speak to your doctor about possible abortive and preventive medications that can limit the sensation of pain during an episode, including the drugs divalproex, ergotamine tartrate, sumatriptan, lithium, prednisone, and verapamil.

When standard therapies don’t do the trick, invasive surgery that attempts to block the trigeminal nerve is a possibility, though not widely performed due to the general success of pharmaceuticals in limiting the effects of cluster headaches.

If you’re concerned that you are suffering from cluster headaches, be sure to pay your doctor a visit right away, allowing them to help you to design a plan of action in treating this difficult, but manageable affliction.


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