What is a cluster headache?


Cluster headache is a rare neurological disorder characterized by a painful headache at repeated intervals. As its name indicates, it is a group of frequent and recurrent series of headaches. A single attack may last from days to months and may prolong to a year. The duration of the attack is from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Almost 1 out of 1000 people suffer this disease. The first incidence is usually between 20-40 years. Men are four times more vulnerable to cluster headaches than women.

Cluster headache is also known as “suicide headache” from here you can estimate the severity of its nature. People suffering from this condition often think about suicide. According to a survey, 55% of victims stated that they have thought about suicide while experiencing this. Along with, 20% of affected individuals have lost their jobs due to CH

 Restlessness is a prevalent symptom of cluster headache. Other symptoms are swelled eyes, pupil constriction, runny nose, watery eyes, redness and swelling of face, droopy eyelid, sweating, feeling of piercing, burning, and squeezing. Secondary signs are sensitivity towards light and noise, depression, anxiety, confusion, lack of planned or organized thoughts, agitation, and aggressiveness.

People often confuse cluster headaches with migraines, but both are different. In cluster headache, a person bears intense pain along one side of the face. Most of the time, cluster headache is predominant at the right side of your face.

It is a genetic disorder, comprises of regular and unpredictable onset of sudden pains. You may get them at the same time and month every year, that’s why we call them seasonal. People tend to have 1-2 attacks of cluster headache daily, but the frequency of attack may increase up to 8 times per day if left untreated.

 The exact cause behind this headache is unknown. But it is believed to be associated with cardiac activities of body repeated after 24 hours. Hypothalamus is responsible in producing these rhythmic activities. Hypothalamus gives signals to the nerve pathway. These signals affect the trigeminal nerve, which induces the feeling of burn and severe pain.

Cluster headache is also known as an alarm clock headache due to its nature. There is no periodicity in regularity, but a person may have it at a precise time of day or night. Measuring factors like frequency, duration, and severity are not the same for every individual. An individual may suffer from episodic or chronic cluster headaches based on the length and frequency of attack.

Episodic cluster headache comprises 85-90% of total cases, while chronic is 10-15% of total reported cases. The episodic condition lasts about a week, and pain-free duration is higher than three months. While chronic conditions last for months and even greater than a year but the pain-free period is less than three months.

Some factors that can trigger cluster headache are alcohol, tobacco, and smoking. The elements do not initiate a cluster headache, but they can intensify the ongoing pains. Individuals should go for lifestyle modifications like 8-hour sleep, following routine schedule, and avoiding triggering factors. We can treat acute cluster headache with a surplus supply of oxygen and triptans. In severe cases, nerve stimulation surgery is the last option.

The cluster headache is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. People visit their ENT doctor as these parts are most affected. A person should provide recall of onset timing and duration for proper diagnosis. Isolation and social withdrawal are consequences faced by affected individuals.


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