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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 March 25, 2020

          How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

          How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

          When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

          So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

          1. Exercise

          It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

          2. Drink in Moderation

          I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

          3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

          Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

          4. Watch Less Television

          A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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          Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

          5. Eat Less Red Meat

          Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

          If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

          6. Don’t Smoke

          This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

          7. Socialize

          Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

          8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

          Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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          9. Be Optimistic

          Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

          10. Own a Pet

          Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

          11. Drink Coffee

          Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

          12. Eat Less

          Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

          13. Meditate

          Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

          Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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          How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

          14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

          Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

          15. Laugh Often

          Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

          16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

          Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

          17. Cook Your Own Food

          When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

          Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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          18. Eat Mushrooms

          Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

          19. Floss

          Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

          20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

          Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

          Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

          21. Have Sex

          Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

          More Health Tips

          Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

          Reference

          [1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
          [2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
          [3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
          [4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
          [5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
          [6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
          [7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
          [8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
          [9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
          [10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
          [11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
          [12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
          [13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
          [14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
          [15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
          [16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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