Cluster Headaches: On Again, Off Again

According to the World Health Organization, headaches are the third highest cause of time lost to ill health in the world, making them a public-health concern due to disability and financial costs to society. Headache disorders—recurring headaches—occur in an estimated half of all adults worldwide. They affect people of all ages, races, income levels, and geographical areas.

The International Headache Society identifies more than 150 different types of headaches! These are divided into three categories: Primary, Secondary, and Other.  Headaches are considered to be primary when they are not caused by another condition, but are the condition itself. The main categories of primary headaches are migraines, tension-type headaches (TTH); TACs or trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (which includes cluster headaches); and other types induced by some sort of activity. The most common headaches are the primary types migraine, tension-type and cluster.

Cluster headaches, named so because they tend to happen in groups, are “intense and feel like a burning or piercing pain behind one eye, either throbbing or constant,” according to WebMD. The pain of a cluster headache has been described as one of the most painful experiences a person can have. The headache often appears suddenly, lasts up to an hour, then disappears, and occurs one to three times per day. This pattern can last a few days, weeks, or even months. During a remission period, no headaches occur.

The cause of cluster headaches is unknown and there is no cure. There does exist a wide range of treatments but success varies from individual to individual. These treatments include:

  • Inhaling 100% oxygen—This may bring relief within 15 minutes but is not always practical and may only postpone symptoms.
  • Oral, injectable, or inhaled medications or nasal drops—These can be fast acting but don’t work for everyone. Some are not safe for those with hypertension or ischemic heart disease.
  • Surgery—This may be recommended if other treatments do not work or cannot be tolerated by the patient.

Additional cluster headache treatments are being investigated, include occipital nerve, sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) nerve bundle, and deep brain stimulation, which involve implanting a stimulator in the patient that sends electrical impulses to relieve pain. Further studies are needed to confirm that these treatments are safe and effective.

Research is critical to improving the prevention, treatment, and eventual cure of this debilitating type of headache. Meridien Research is conducting cluster headache and migraine research studies. For more information or to see if you or someone you know may qualify to participate, please contact us today at 813-563-6009.