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Cluster Headaches

We’re going to wrap-up our three post headache series by talking about cluster headaches. As you can see in the video, they’re absolutely horrifying.

Science can’t say for sure what causes cluster headaches; however, fingers are being pointed at the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small bundle of nerves deep within the brain that manages hunger, thirst, fatigue, body temperature, and circadian cycles. It’s all about homeostasis – a sense of internal regulation and balance.

Given the work of the hypothalamus, it makes perfect sense that cluster headaches occur with clock-like regularity during a day, and the “cluster” of episodes frequently follows seasons of the year.

Other culprits of cause may be fluctuating levels of the hormones cortisol and melatonin, as well as rapidly changing levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Unlike migraines, the ingestion of certain foods is not thought to be a cause. But it’s known that ingesting alcohol during a cluster episode will very quickly intensify the pain.

Okay, you’re much more likely to suffer from cluster headaches if…

  • You’re a guy
  • You’re over 25
  • You’re African American
  • You’re a smoker
  • You’re a drinker
  • Your parents or siblings experience(d) cluster headaches

Folks,  I wish I had better news for you, but there’s no cure for cluster headaches. So when they strike, it’s all about knocking down the intensity of the pain and how long it lasts.

When intense pain is on the scene the treatments of choice are…

  • Oxygen – as in inhaling 100% oxygen through a mask
  • Triptans – the injectable form of sumatriptan (Imitrex) typically works best, but a nasal spray is also available. zolmitriptan (Zomig) is another option
  • Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45, Migranal) – available intravenously and in an  inhaler
  • Octreotide (Sandostatin, Sandostatin LAR) – an injectable synthetic version of the brain hormone somatostatin
  • Local anesthetics – lidocaine nasal drops

As with any headache, healthy lifestyle habits are huge in cluster headache prevention.

Please be sure to see your physician if you believe you’re suffering from cluster headaches. And stay in his/her care because potential drug interactions and issues with existing health situations can cause major problems.

Well that does it for our headache series and, as always, we need your feelings and thoughts. Why not share what’s on your mind in a comment?