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Cluster Headaches: How To Deal With The Worst Headache

Cluster Headaches: How To Deal With The Worst Headache

If you or someone you love suffers from cluster headaches, you probably understand a little about just how debilitating this condition can be and what a huge impact it can have on someone’s quality of life. Fortunately, there are some treatments available that can help to control this pain and help patients and their families lead a full and happy life. Read on to find out more about these excruciating headaches – why they happen and what can be done to resolve the problem.

What is a Cluster Headache?

A cluster headache is the most painful kind of chronic head and earned its name from the clusters or groups of attacks that sufferers can experience during a period of exacerbation.  It is, fortunately, also the least common form of chronic head and only occurs in around 1 out of every 1,000 people.

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    What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Cluster Headache?

    The primary symptom of a cluster headache is excruciating pain:

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    • The pain can be sharp, stabbing or burning
    • It usually centers around one eye or one side of the face, but other parts of the head and neck can also be involved
    • It is common to have cluster periods lasting anywhere from several weeks up to a year; during this time, headaches will come on up to several times a day and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.
    • There appears to be a cyclic nature to the pain and it often will occur at the same time of day or the same time of year; one common time for it to occur is at night around 1-2 hours after going to sleep.
    • These cluster periods can be followed by a period of remission which is free of pain and which lasts anywhere from months to years.

    Apart from the pain, there are other possible symptoms that can accompany a cluster headache. These can include tearing, redness and swelling of the eye on the affected side of the body as well as drooping eyelids and nasal congestion. Sweaty, pale skin and restlessness are also common.

    It’s not exactly what you’re suffering from? Then you need to check if you have one of the following headaches instead and learn about how to deal with it:

    Tension Headache: Understanding Of The Most Common Headache

    Sinus Headache: Symptoms, Causes And Natural Reliefs

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    How To Get Rid Of A Headache Without Medicine

    How is a Cluster Headache Different from a Migraine?

    People sometimes mistake cluster headaches from migraines, but there are several ways in which cluster headaches are different:

    • Cluster headaches are a less common form of chronic headache
    • Most cluster headache sufferers don’t get an aura, a sight or smell that signals the onset of a headache and most do not get the nausea and sensitivity to light that comes with a migraine
    • Migraine sufferers find it easier to lie down and rest, while this position seems to make a cluster headache worse.

    What Causes Cluster Headaches?

    The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown. However, doctors do know that during an attack, the trigeminal nerve, which runs along the side of the face and around the eye, becomes activated and extremely sensitive.  Many researchers also believe that the underlying cause for this activation lies in some sort of abnormality in the hypothalamus, the small gland which lies in the middle of the brain: the cycles of pain seem to suggest that the problem is linked to a person’s circadian rhythms (sleep and wake cycles), which is regulated by this gland.

    Because of the cyclic nature of the cluster headaches, many people mistakenly believe that cluster headaches are related to allergies – but several studies have been done on this subject and no association has been found.

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      Who is at Risk for Cluster Headaches?

      While anyone can develop cluster headaches, certain risk factors make it more likely that a person will come down with this condition. These risk factors include:

      • Age. People between the ages of 20 and 50 are most likely to develop cluster headaches, but the majority actually begin before age 30.
      • Gender. Men are more likely than women to develop cluster headaches.
      • Family history. Doctors suspect that there might be a genetic component to this problem, since it can run in families.
      • Lifestyle choices. Use of alcohol and tobacco can increase the risk as well.

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        What can be Done for Cluster Headaches?

        Unfortunately, to date, there is no cure for cluster headaches. The good news?  People today have many more choices than in the past when it comes to day-to-day management of this condition. Treatments can include:

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        • Oral medications, like ergots, corticosteroids (which are used for a variety of inflammatory conditions), and lithium (which was originally used for bipolar disorder but has also proven to be effective at treating these headaches).
        • Triptans, the best-known of which is Imitrex, which can be injected or given through a nasal spray.
        • An injectable form of somatostatin, a hormone found naturally in the brain.
        • A block on the trigeminal nerve to cut off feeling in order to stop the pain.
        • Experiments are underway with nerve stimulation of the occipital nerve and deep brain stimulation, but these are still not readily available.
        • Local anesthetics like Lidocaine can also be incredibly useful.

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          Are there At-Home or Alternative Treatments Available?

          Many patients who suffer from cluster headaches are curious about what alternative treatments are available to help treat this condition.

          Unfortunately, the small number of studies that have been done on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices, including chiropractic therapy, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and acupressure have not found these to be effective for the majority of patients. However, some research has been done with supplements of kudzu, a vine of Asian origin, which seem to be able to ease cluster headache symptoms.

          A basic healthy lifestyle with plenty of sleep and good nutrition and adequate hydration are generally supportive, as is the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.

          In short, cluster headaches can bring excruciating pain and seriously reduce the quality of life for those who suffer from it. There is no cure for this condition, but the good news is that more treatments are available than in the past for treating this condition and help patients to manage the pain and lead full and normal lives.

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          Brian Wu

          Health Writer, Author

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          Last Updated on August 4, 2020

          8 Benefits of a Minimalist Lifestyle That Get You to Live With Less

          8 Benefits of a Minimalist Lifestyle That Get You to Live With Less

          Minimalism is a way to put a stop to the gluttony of the world around us. It’s the opposite of every advertisement we see plastered on the radio and TV. We live in a society that prides itself on the accumulation of stuff; we eat up consumerism, material possessions, clutter, debt, distractions and noise.

          What we don’t seem to have is any meaning left in our world.

          By adopting a minimalist lifestyle, you can throw out what you don’t need in order to focus on what you do need.

          I know first hand how little we actually need to survive. I was fortunate enough to live in a van for four months while traveling throughout Australia. This experience taught me valuable lessons about what really matters and how little we really need all this stuff we surround ourselves with.

          Less is more.

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          Living a minimalist lifestyle is reducing.There are a few obvious benefits of minimalism such as less cleaning and stress, a more organized household and more money to be found, but there are also a few deep, life-changing benefits.

          What we don’t usually realize is that when we reduce, we reduce a lot more than just stuff.

          Consider just some of the benefits of living with fewer possessions:

          1. Create Room for What’s Important

          When we purge our junk drawers and closets we create space and peace. We lose that claustrophobic feeling and we can actually breathe again. Create the room to fill up our lives with meaning instead of stuff.

          2. More Freedom

          The accumulation of stuff is like an anchor, it ties us down. We are always terrified of losing all our ‘stuff’. Let it go and you will experience a freedom like never before: a freedom from greed, debt, obsession and overworking.

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          3. Focus on Health and Hobbies

          When you spend less time at Home Depot trying unsuccessfully to keep up with the Joneses, you create an opening to do the things you love, things that you never seem to have time for.

          Everyone is always saying they don’t have enough time, but how many people really stop and look at what they are spending their time doing?

          You could be enjoying a day with your kids, hitting up the gym, practicing yoga, reading a good book or traveling. Whatever it is that you love you could be doing, but instead you are stuck at Sears shopping for more stuff.

          4. Less Focus on Material Possessions

          All the stuff we surround ourselves with is merely a distraction, we are filling a void. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy comfort. After the initial comfort is satisfied, that’s where our obsession with money should end.

          We are bombarded by the media presenting promises of happiness through materialistic measures. It’s no wonder we struggle everyday. Resist those urges. It’s an empty path, it won’t make you happy.

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          It’s hard not to get roped into the consumerism trap. I need constant reminders that it’s a false sense of happiness. I enjoy stuff, but I also recognize that I don’t need it.

          5. More Peace of Mind

          When we cling onto material possessions we create stress because we are always afraid of losing these things. By simplifying your life you can lose your attachment to these things and ultimately create a calm, peaceful mind.

          The less things you have to worry about, the more peace you have, and it’s as simple as that.

          6. More Happiness

          When de-cluttering your life, happiness naturally comes because you gravitate towards the things that matter most. You see clearly the false promises in all the clutter, it’s like a broken shield against life’s true essence.

          You will also find happiness in being more efficient, you will find concentration by having refocused your priorities, you will find joy by enjoying slowing down.

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          7. Less Fear of Failure

          When you look at Buddhist monks, they have no fear, and they have no fear because they don’t have anything to lose.

          In whatever you wish to pursue doing you can excel, if you aren’t plagued with the fear of losing all your worldly possessions. Obviously you need to take the appropriate steps to put a roof over your head, but also know that you have little to fear except fear itself.

          8. More Confidence

          The entire minimalist lifestyle promotes individuality and self reliance. This will make you more confident in your pursuit of happiness.

          What’s Next? Go Minimalism.

          If you’re ready to start living a minimalist lifestyle, these articles can help you to kickstart:

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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