Dr. M.J. Bazos MD,
What is a cluster
A cluster headache is a rare
type of headache that is more common in men. Cluster headaches start suddenly.
The pain is usually behind or around one eye and is very severe. The eye and
nose on the same side as the pain may become red, swollen and runny. Cluster
headaches also cause restlessness. These headaches can be frightening to the
sufferer and his or her family.
cluster headache can last a few minutes or several hours, but it usually lasts
for 30 to 45 minutes. Cluster headaches typically occur at the same time each
day for several weeks, until the "cluster period" is over. Cluster periods
usually last 4 to 8 weeks and may occur every few months. At other times, no
cluster headaches will occur.
causes cluster headaches?
The cause of
cluster headaches is not known. Cluster headaches do not appear to be related to
other illnesses or to diseases of the brain. They do not seem to run in
How do I know if I have
Your description of
your headaches will help your doctor make the diagnosis. The time and pattern of
attacks are very important, so keep a diary of your pain. Family members or
others who see you during a headache can also help by telling the doctor how you
look and act. Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor about your attempts to
relieve the pain (such as banging your head against furniture). These
attempts are common, and talking about them will help your doctor judge how
severe the headaches are.
will also give you a physical exam. Tests will probably not be needed to
diagnose cluster headaches, but your doctor may order tests to rule out other
Can I do anything to
prevent headaches once a cluster period has
During a cluster period,
it is important to keep to your usual routine, remain calm and avoid changing
your sleep pattern. Once a cluster period has started, a change in sleep
pattern, particularly taking an afternoon nap, seems to bring on the headaches.
Drinking alcohol will also bring on
headaches during cluster periods. This happens very quickly -- before you finish
the first drink. Alcohol should be completely avoided until the cluster period
is over. Stress may bring on attacks, and the headaches may start when you are
relaxing after a stressful time.
What treatments are
Several treatments are
available for cluster headaches. It is important to work with your doctor to
talk about side effects of different medicines, pick the right treatment for you
and set up a schedule for taking the medicines your doctor prescribes. Your
doctor will probably prescribe 2 medicines. One medicine is taken regularly
during a cluster period to reduce the number of headaches. In order for the
medicine to work, the level of the drug in your blood must be high at the time
your attacks usually start.
medicine is taken to relieve the pain when a cluster headache occurs. Attacks
begin too quickly for you to reach medical help. You must be ready to take this
medicine as soon as an attack begins. You may want to teach family members
about your headaches and medicines so that they will be able to help you when
you have an attack. Medicines taken by mouth work too slowly to give relief for
cluster headaches. For this reason, your doctor may prescribe a medicine that is
taken by inhaler, as an injection (a "shot") or as a rectal suppository. Other
treatments that work for some people are rapidly breathing pure oxygen through a
mask or using a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) in their nose.
How do most people
Although cluster headaches are
very painful, with the right treatment most people cope very well. Preventive
medicines work well to reduce the number of headaches during cluster periods.
When a cluster headache does occur, medicines can greatly shorten the headache
and reduce its severity. It is important that you work with your doctor to find
the right treatment for you.