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I Suffer From Cluster Headache

Cluster Headache Treatment

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 worst type of headache you can experience. Out of the near 300 different headache diagnosis known to date, cluster headache has the highest recorded pain level with the pain affecting one side of the head; most commonly around, behind, or above the eye and/or the temporal region. They are sometimes referred to as the ‘Suicide Headache’.

Once treatment with our headache experts commences we expect a significant improvement to occur rapidly in 90% of our patients with Cluster Headaches and within the first 5 treatment consultations.

Our treatment does not require the use of medication or any surgery, it is non-invasive and is completely safe.

 

Understanding Your Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of Cluster Headache

Cluster headache pain is severe to extreme in nature, and has been reported by female sufferers to be worse than the pain of childbirth. Attacks occur in cluster periods or in cyclical patterns. They will often awaken you in the middle of the night, or at set times during the day.

Duration of attacks range between  15 minutes – 3 hours, and may occur anywhere from 8 times per day to once every second day. Bouts of attacks known as ‘cluster periods’ can last for weeks or several months, followed by weeks, months or even years of remission (headache-free periods).

Those with cluster headaches usually cannot keep still during an attack. They often try to relieve their pain by pacing the room, walking back and forth, or sitting down in a hot shower rocking back and forth, and sometimes hitting or banging their head against the wall until their pain stops.

Associated symptoms can include the following:
  • Severe pain behind or around the affected eye, and can radiate around the face, head and neck
  • Pain is unilateral and only on one side
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Redness in the eye
  • Watery and teary eye
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Swelling around eye and eyelid
  • Dropping of eyelid
  • Sweating of forehead and face
  • Pale skin or flushing of the face
Headache Symptoms

Understanding Your Headache

What is the cause of 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 Headaches.

Recent research has discovered that medication such as 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 signals sent to the brainstem and inhibits pain travelling to the head. This information now indicates cluster headaches and migraines to be a direct result of a neck issue, accompanied by a sensitised brainstem.

About The Assessment Stage

What To Expect During The Assessment


1. Comprehensive and in-depth examination

We instigate an in-depth assessment to identify all possible related factors that could be causing your headaches or migraines. The upper cervical spine, in particular, is thoroughly examined to identify possible issues.



2. Ligamental stability and vertebral arterial tests

We undertake careful examination of neck ligaments and vertebral arteries, ensuring only the highest standards of patient safety and comfort.


3. Temporarily reproduce your headache and migraine symptoms

As a part of the treatment process, we apply gentle and selective stress to the upper cervical spine in order to reproduce headache symptoms, which subside after 20-30 seconds. This helps to identify and treat the cause of your headaches.

More about Cluster Headaches

Episodic Cluster Headache

This type accounts for roughly 80% of cluster headaches. Sufferers will have attacks with bouts of cluster periods which can last weeks or months, followed by pain-free periods called remission periods which can last months to years. They can often occur seasonally at set times during the year.

Chronic Cluster Headache

This type accounts for roughly 20% of cluster headaches. Sufferers will have attacks lasting for a year or more without remission periods. Some may have periods of headache-free days, however, remission periods lasts less than one month.

Risk factors for Cluster Headaches

– Sex: Men are 5-6 times more likely to have cluster headaches than females

– Smoking: Sufferers are usually heavy smokers, or their parents are smokers

– Alcohol: Significant alcohol consumption may be a risk factor.

– Age: The average age is between 20 to 50 years old, however, this condition can develop in all age brackets

– Family History: Having a family member with cluster headaches may also increase the risk

Cluster Headache Theory

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 are migraine-free. 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.

I’ve tried it all. What can be done to help my Chronic Daily Headache?

Treating your Cluster Headache

Although cluster headaches are rare, they still affect the Brisbane population. Sufferers have trialled different types of medication, injection therapy, neuropathy and utilise oxygen therapy tanks, all with mixed results.

One of the crucial things a cluster headache sufferer needs to accomplish is to find the cause of their symptoms. A thorough examination of your 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 it is 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 consultations.

The best part about the treatment is that it does not require the use of medication, or any surgery, it is non-invasive and is completely safe.

At the Brisbane Headache and Migraine Clinic, we have seen many patients with cluster headaches and are experts in treating cluster headaches. Therefore, we pride ourselves on keeping up with the most recent research, and applying the most effective treatments.

Tools for managing migraines.