Cluster Headaches

Overview
This condition is a neurological problem that results
in periodic episodes of intense pain. Cluster
headaches are one of the most painful types of
headaches. They often strike in cyclical patterns.
The person will have frequent bouts of cluster
headaches, and then the headaches will stop
completely for a period of time.


Causes
Doctors do not know why cluster headaches occur.
They may be related to the hypothalamus, and they
may be linked to seasonal changes. Some people
report that their headaches are triggered by certain
stimuli, although triggers do not seem to play a
large role in cluster headaches. Smoking, alcohol
use, specific foods, bright light and stress have all
been named as possible triggers.


Symptoms
Symptoms of a cluster headache include a sharp,
burning pain that often starts while a person is
sleeping. The pain is usually centered on one eye,
and may cause the pupil to constrict and the eyelid
to droop. Pain may radiate from the center to other
areas of the head. The person may have a flushed
face and runny nose. Attacks may last from 15
minutes to three hours. During a cluster period - the
period when attacks happen frequently - the person
may have attacks every day at regular times for
weeks or months until the cluster period has
finished. The person may not experience another
cluster period for months or years.


Treatment
There is no cure for cluster headaches, but
treatment options may relieve symptoms and
reduce their frequency. Options may include
inhaling oxygen through a mask - which quickly
provides dramatic relief for many - and various
medications. Medications may include
corticosteroids, synthetic hormones and pain
relievers, and may be administered through IVs,
nasal sprays, inhalers and injections. For some
patients who do not respond to these treatments,
techniques such as nerve blocks or deep brain
stimulations may be effective.

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