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Cluster headaches are rare when compared to other types of headaches. The pain they produce is severe and tends to recur in the same way each time.
Cluster headaches occur in groups, or clusters, and each attack last about 1 to 3 hours on average. The frequency of occurrence may range from every other day to multiple times a day. Cluster periods are followed by remissions that may last months or years.
Males are affected by cluster headaches more than females and then typically begin around age 30.
Researchers do not know exactly what causes cluster headaches. They seem to be related to the sudden release of histamine or serotonin in the body.
The following may trigger cluster headaches:
While symptoms may differ from person to person, the following are common symptoms of a cluster headache:
The symptoms of a cluster headache may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Cluster headaches are diagnosed based on your history of a pattern of recurrent bouts of near-daily headache attacks lasting for days, weeks, or months.
A two-pronged approach is necessary for treatment of cluster headaches: aborting an attack and preventing future attacks.
To stop at least subdue an attack in progress, you may take oxygen through a face mask. Your doctor may also prescribe a nasal spray called sumatriptan (Imitrex) to relieve the severe pain of a cluster headache. Sumatriptan is a selective serotonin receptor agonist -- a medication that causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, thereby relieving pain.
The second part of cluster headache treatment is to prevent recurrent attacks by using daily medication. Several medications are used to prevent cluster headache attacks:
A true cluster headache is not life threatening and does not cause permanent brain damage. But, they tend to be chronic, recurrent, and can interfere with your lifestyle or work.
To prevent a cluster headache, it’s important to identify what triggers your headaches. Try avoiding smoking and alcohol use. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication regimen that will help prevent cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches may go away on their own. If not, you will need a treatment regimen to relieve or prevent cluster headaches.
There are some danger signs that may occur with cluster headaches that warrant immediate medical care. These include:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.