Cluster Headaches

This type of headache is one of the more intense on the pain scale side of things.  Cluster headaches are even nicknamed the ‘suicide headache’ because of the degree of pain.  Some of the frustration with this type of headache comes from the fact that the causes are not known.  There are triggers and statistics showing who is affected more frequently, but this does little to help the individual suffering with this immense pain.  Men are more greatly affected by this form of headache, which is somewhat unusual as far as headaches go.  Still, these cluster headaches affect only about .1% of the population.

As mentioned, it is not known what causes a cluster headache.  Migraine causes have a similar unknown etiology component to them.  However, what is common is the description of its pain and symptoms.  This type of headache is often compared to migraine symptoms and pain levels.  In women sufferers, they report that the pain is worse than that of childbirth.  After an attack, there is often neck pain and tenderness as well.  These are similar to some symptoms of tension headaches, but make no mistake between these two.  If you’re suffering with these intermittent, but extremely painful headaches, you should definitely seek help as battling these alone can be not only scary but dangerous as well.

Cluster Headaches Symptoms

The most common symptom is extreme pain that is unilateral (one-sided) in nature and is described as being located behind the eye or just above it in the temporal region of the head.  The pain is described as a deep boring or drilling type of pain that can last anywhere from 15 mins. to 3 hours or more.  There is often an accompanying drop in the eyelid on the affected side, tearing and sweating from the same side of the head as the affected eye.  Certain medicines, like aspirin, ibuprofen and other over-the-counter medications generally have no effect on the pain from this type of headache.  Even biofeedback and migraine medications, which help migrane sufferers, do not offer any relief for these symptoms.  The reason is likely due to the nature of how they are initiated.

One of the more popularly accepted theories for how cluster headaches arise is from an Australian specialist, Dr. Goadsby.  He has proposed a hypothalamus involvement, largely because of how rhythmical and timely these types of headaches are.  They are often experienced at the same time of day and even the same day of the week by people who regularly experience them.  Headaches everyday like this are just one of the common characteristics that help distinguish them.  This ‘alarm clock headache’ phenomenon may be related to the circadian rhythm which is where the hypothalamus comes into play.

Genetics and smoking also play a role in the triggers for these types of headaches.  First generation sufferers are more common and tobacco, especially an addiction or high level use, tends to be more prominent in this group.  Some have even proposed the idea that the condition itself underlies why some may be predisposed to or attracted to tobacco use in the first place.

Treatment Options for Cluster Headaches

In this regard, there are drugs that are termed either abortive or prophylactic.  The abortives are designed to help decrease the length of time of symptoms or to help the headache not reach its peak in terms of pain level.   Drug choices include triptans, lidocaine and ergots.  For preventative or prophylactic treatment using drugs, steroids, methysergide, lithium and anti-convulsives are often prescribed.

There are also alternative approaches to medications.  One of the more popular of these is using oxygen as an abortive.  Whether it is in the form of a high percentage oxygen inhalation or through a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, it has been shown to stop a cluster headache.  Likewise, there are alternative medicinal approaches, too.   Melatonin and Kudzu root supplements have also been shown to help people’s symptoms reduce.  Magnesium sulfite administered  intravenously has  also been shown to help people with low levels of serum magnesium.

As a chiropractor in Gilbert, AZ, our doctor works with people suffering with many sorts of health conditions and symptoms.  Many of these people come to our office with complaints of headaches everyday or regularly for the past several months to years of their life.  While we cannot promise or guarantee relief for every person we see, it is common for many of these headache sufferers to find relief often within the first month or so of care, depending on the nature and severity of their symptoms and history.  Our office utilizes a more holistic and gentle approach known as Network Spinal Analysis or Network Care.  If you’re interested in learning more about how we may be able to contact you regarding your cluster headaches or any other complaints, feel free to contact us today.

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