What is Cluster Headache?
According to the Headache International Society, Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache. It affects around 0.1% of the population, and affects males 5-6 times more often than females.
Although cluster headaches are uncommon, they are regarded as excruciating, and the absolute worst form of headache you can experience. Because of this, they are sometimes referred to as the ‘Suicide Headache’. The pain experienced is of a severe to extreme nature, and has been reported by female sufferers to be worse than the pain of childbirth. Attacks occur in clusters. The duration of attacks is from 15-180 minutes and may occur anywhere from 8 times per day to once every second day. The ‘cluster’ can last for weeks or months, followed by weeks or months of remission (headache free periods). It affects one side of the head with pain most commonly around, behind, or above the eye and/or the temporal region. Associated symptoms can include red and watery eye, runny or congested nose, swelling and drooping of the eyelid. Patients may also experience sweating of the forehead and face on the side of their symptoms during an attack. Pain is so severe that cluster headache is sometimes referred to as ‘Suicide Headache’.
What is the cause of Cluster Headache?
As with many forms of headache, the cause of cluster headache was previously unknown. Medical professionals have been prescribing medications such as Triptans, which have been effective at relieving the pain, if taken early enough to ‘catch’ the headache. The effect of Triptans, as most doctors originally thought, was that it predominantly works on migraines as it helps prevent dilatation of the blood vessels in the head to stop migraines. However, recent studies have shown that dilatation and expansion of the blood vessels are no different to those suffering from a migraine and those who were not1. More importantly, the physiology of blood vessels in the head during a cluster headache do not expand, yet patients still benefit from medications such as Triptans. So, what is going on?
Then what is going on and what causes a Cluster Headache?
Research that has been conducted over the last 15 years has found that the primary contributing factor of Cluster Headaches are related to a disorder originating in the neck, specifically, a fault in the upper cervical spine resulting in a SENSITISED BRAINSTEM which induces Cluster Headaches2. Recent research has discovered that Triptans not only help to reduce dilatation of the blood vessels, but more importantly desensitises the brainstem. This is done by reducing information received from cervical afferents i.e. nerve endings in the neck. This, in turn, decreases signal sent to the brainstem, and inhibits pain travelling into the head. This information now indicates cluster headaches and migraines to be a direct result of a neck issue, accompanied by a sensitised brainstem.
I've already tried everything. What else can be done to help Cluster Headache?
Although cluster headaches are rare, they still affect the population in Brisbane. Many sufferers have trialled different types of medication, injection therapy, neuropathy and utilise oxygen therapy tank, all with mixed results.
One of the crucial things a cluster headache sufferer needs to accomplish is to find the cause of their symptoms. Modern medicine moves very rapidly, and unfortunately this means that not everyone can keep up with all of the latest research. Many practitioners rely on the outdated medical model of the various forms of headaches to provide treatments to their patients. Here at the Brisbane Headache and Migraine Clinic™, we specialise in treating headaches and migraines. Therefore, we pride ourselves on keeping up with the most recent research, and applying the most effective treatments. At our Brisbane clinics, we have seen many with cluster headaches and use world-class techniques in assessing and treating the neck. A thorough examination of the upper cervical spine is initiated to determine the severity of your SENSITISED BRAINSTEM. If you have been found to have a sensitised brainstem, and that to be the cause of your cluster headaches, treatment can begin.
Once treatment commences we expect a significant improvement to occur rapidly in 90% of our patients with Cluster Headaches and within the first 5 treatment consultation.
The best part about the treatment, is that it does not require the use of medication, it does not require any surgery, is non-invasive and is completely safe.
Imagine living a life free from migraines and saying goodbye to medications!
To gain your recovery today contact us on 1800 HEADACHE (toll free)
1800 43 23 22
1. Goadsby, P,J, (2009) The vascular theory of Migraine. A great story wrecked by the facts. Brain, 132 (1), pp 6-7.
2. Watson, D.H. and Drummond, P.D. (2014). Cervical Referral of Head Pain in Migraineurs: Effects on the Nociceptive Blink Reflex. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 54(6), pp.1035-1045.