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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

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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 12, 2019

          12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

          12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

          Nutrition plays a vital role in brain function and staying sharp into the golden years. Personally, my husband is going through medical school, which is like a daily mental marathon. Like any good wife, I am always looking for things that will boost his memory fortitude so he does his best in school.

          But you don’t have to be a med student to appreciate better brainiac brilliance. If you combine certain foods with good hydration, proper sleep and exercise, you may just rival Einstein and have a great memory in no time.

          I’m going to reveal the list of foods coming out of the kitchen that can improve your memory and make you smarter.

          Here are 12 best brain foods that improve memory and brain power:

          1. Nuts

          The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study linking higher intakes of vitamin E with the prevention on cognitive decline.[1]

          Nuts like walnuts and almonds (along with other great foods like avocados) are a great source of vitamin E.

          Cashews and sunflower seeds also contain an amino acid that reduces stress by boosting serotonin levels.

          Walnuts even resemble the brain, just in case you forget the correlation, and are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which also improve your mental magnitude.

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          2. Blueberries

          Shown in studies at Tuffs University to benefit both short-term memory and coordination, blueberries pack quite a punch in a tiny blue package.[2]

          When compared to other fruits and veggies, blueberries were found to have the highest amount of antioxidants (especially flavonoids), but strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are also full of brain benefits.

          3. Tomatoes

          Tomatoes are packed full of the antioxidant lycopene, which has shown to help protect against free-radical damage most notably seen in dementia patients.

          4. Broccoli

          While all green veggies are important and rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, broccoli is a superfood even among these healthy choices.

          Since your brain uses so much fuel (it’s only 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy), it is more vulnerable to free-radical damage and antioxidants help eliminate this threat.

          Broccoli is packed full of antioxidants, is well-known as a powerful cancer fighter and is also full of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function.

          5. Foods Rich in Essential Fatty Acids

          Your brain is the fattest organ (not counting the skin) in the human body, and is composed of 60% fat. That means that your brain needs essential fatty acids like DHA and EPA to repair and build up synapses associated with memory.

          The body does not naturally produce essential fatty acids so we must get them in our diet.

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          Eggs, flax, and oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are great natural sources of these powerful fatty acids. Eggs also contain choline, which is a necessary building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, to help you recall information and concentrate.

          6. Soy

          Soy, along with many other whole foods mentioned here, are full of proteins that trigger neurotransmitters associated with memory.

          Soy protein isolate is a concentrated form of the protein that can be found in powder, liquid, or supplement form.

          Soy is valuable for improving memory and mental flexibility, so pour soy milk over your cereal and enjoy the benefits.

          7. Dark Chocolate

          When it comes to chocolate, the darker the better. Try to aim for at least 70% cocoa. This yummy desert is rich in flavanol antioxidants which increase blood flow to the brain and shield brain cells from aging.

          Take a look at this article if you want to know more benefits of dark chocolate: 15 Surprising and Science-Backed Health Effects of Dark Chocolate

          8. Foods Rich in Vitamins: B vitamins, Folic Acid, Iron

          Some great foods to obtain brain-boosting B vitamins, folic acid and iron are kale, chard, spinach and other dark leafy greens.

          B6, B12 and folic acid can reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine increases are found in patients with cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s, and high risk of stroke.

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          Studies showed when a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment were given high doses of B6, B12, and folic acid, there was significant reduction in brain shrinkage compared to a similar placebo group.[3]

          Other sources of B vitamins are liver, eggs, soybeans, lentils and green beans. Iron also helps accelerate brain function by carrying oxygen. If your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it can slow down and people can experience difficulty concentrating, diminished intellect, and a shorter attention span.

          To get more iron in your diet, eat lean meats, beans, and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C helps in iron absorption, so don’t forget the fruits!

          9. Foods Rich in Zinc

          Zinc has constantly demonstrated its importance as a powerful nutrient in memory building and thinking. This mineral regulates communications between neurons and the hippocampus.

          Zinc is deposited within nerve cells, with the highest concentrations found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for higher learning function and memory.

          Some great sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds, liver, nuts, and peas.

          10. Gingko Biloba

          This herb has been utilized for centuries in eastern culture and is best known for its memory boosting brawn.

          It can increase blood flow in the brain by dilating vessels, increasing oxygen supply and removing free radicals.

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          However, don’t expect results overnight: this may take a few weeks to build up in your system before you see improvements.

          11. Green and Black Tea

          Studies have shown that both green and black tea prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine—a key chemical involved in memory and lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.

          Both teas appear to have the same affect on Alzheimer’s disease as many drugs utilized to combat the illness, but green tea wins out as its affects last a full week versus black tea which only lasts the day.

          Find out more about green tea here: 11 Health Benefits of Green Tea (+ How to Drink It for Maximum Benefits)

          12. Sage and Rosemary

          Both of these powerful herbs have been shown to increase memory and mental clarity, and alleviate mental fatigue in studies.

          Try to enjoy these savory herbs in your favorite dishes.

          When it comes to mental magnitude, eating smart can really make you smarter. Try to implement more of these readily available nutrients and see just how brainy you can be!

          More About Boosting Brain Power

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

          Reference

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