Cluster Headache

Cluster headache is a severe type of one sided headache. The pain is a searing, stabbing pain, usually behind one eye or at the temple. Cluster Headache is characterized by eye tearing or redness, running of one nostril, sweating or flushing or swelling of the eyelid, these symptoms occurring on the same side of the head as the pain.

Cluster headache attacks are shorter than migraine, lasting between 15 minutes to 3 hours. Typically the attacks occur at predictable times, most commonly in the very early morning between midnight and 3 am, and once again later in the day or early evening.

Cluster pain is severe, and typically there is an inability to lie still. Patients with migraine prefer to lie down in a dark, quiet room, in contrast those with cluster headache will pace and move around, people almost never lie down during a cluster attack.

Cluster attacks come in periods or cycles, during the cycle a person with cluster headaches will have attacks daily. Typical periods of daily attacks are 6-8 weeks in duration. Cluster headache periods often occur 1-2 times per year, or they can skip years.

Episodic cluster headache is the most common type of cluster in which sufferers have runs of daily attacks and then long periods of time with no attacks. A small number of patients will have chronic cluster headache, with a continuing cluster period going on for longer than a year. Most patients with cluster headaches are male, with a 2:1 ratio compared to females.

There are some interesting associations with cluster headaches. The most reliable trigger for a headache is alcohol, in particular beer. About 50% of patients smoke. Sleep apnoea is found in an estimated 30-80% of those with cluster headaches.

The treatment of cluster headaches includes initial relief with steroids taken by mouth or injected to the back of the head, the starting of a daily preventative medication such as Verapamil (a calcium channel blocker blood pressure medication), and an immediate treatment for each attack.

There are new treatments on the horizon including an injectable antibody targeting the pain chemical calcitonin gene related peptide. If you suffer from Cluster Headaches, and would be interested in participating in a trial of this new treatment, please contact either:

Michelle Cybulski, Clinical Research Coordinator on Ph  (07) 3721 1527 or MCybulski@wesleyresearch.com.au or Jacqui on (07)3721 1548

References: Cluster Headache, Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, Tepper 2015

Note: Information on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice