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Cluster Headache

by Fred Dekker / Feb 05, 2018 / category : headache / 356 views
Cluster Headache

Cluster Headaches

A cluster headache  is one of the most excruciating kinds of headache, surpassing even the pain of an  average migraine in intensity. It is generally described as a sharp, stabbing type  of pain that lacks the throbbing, pulsating quality of a migraine. Cluster  headache attacks happen extremely fast - one minute the person feels perfectly  normal, the next minute like they are being stabbed through the eye. Generally,  the pain is located on just one side of the head.

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Cluster headaches  often occur in tandem with other symptoms, which are usually limited to the  side of the face that the pain is on. For example, the victim’s pupils may  shrink in size, one eye may suddenly start overflowing with tears or the eyelid  may start drooping, and the affected side of the face may swell or turn red.

The defining  feature of a cluster headache is that the attacks are experienced in waves or  cycles, also called clusters. Clusters can last from 2 days to a couple of  weeks. During the cluster period, attacks usually occur at least once per day,  although they can occur more often. Many times, cluster attack victims are jerked  out of a sound sleep by a severe headache. The length of each individual  headache is relatively short, however; anywhere from a half hour to an hour and  a half.

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After the cluster  period ends, the victim may experience a pain-free period of remission, when  the headaches do not occur. People who experience cluster periods followed by  remission have what is known as episodic cluster headache. Other people have chronic cluster headache, with no remission period between cycles.

Causes of Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches  are even more shrouded in mystery than tension headaches and migraines. Nobody  is quite sure what causes these painful attacks, and the scientific hypotheses  we have so far are not very detailed. For example, some researchers believe that  cluster headaches are caused by a disruption in the nerve system that carries  sensations from your head to your brain. This system of nerves is called the  trigeminal system.

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Other doctors  believe that the pain starts with blood vessels buried deep in your head, such  as the arteries that run through your sinuses. The hypothalamus, the control  center for the body’s circadian rhythms or “biological clock,” is probably  involved as well. That would explain why cluster attacks occur in such a  regular pattern.

Triggers of Cluster Headache

Unlike migraines  and tension headaches, cluster headaches lack a set of easily definable  triggers. However, there are a few events that seem to bring on attacks:

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  • Changing seasons - for some people, cluster headaches are associated with a particular  season of the year. These people may suffer a cluster attack during the same  time each year. For example, every winter or every fall. Other people are  particularly prone to cluster attacks after the solstices, the longest and shortest  days of the year.

  • Alcohol - Alcohol is not known to start off a cluster of attacks. But, once  the cluster starts, even a small amount of alcohol can bring on a headache.

Cluster headaches  affect 1 in every 1,000 people. They are the rarest type of primary headache,  and affect men more frequently than women. However, for cluster headache  sufferers, the pain is a serious and debilitating affliction. Some people have  even been known to attempt suicide during an attack due to the severity of the  pain.

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