Cluster Headaches - Sports Injury

Cluster headaches get their name as they are normally experienced in ‘clusters’ at roughly the same time of day over a period of time, usually a few weeks or months. They are a type of vascular headache. Cluster headaches last longer than migraines and are a slightly less common form of headache. Generally speaking men are about five times more likely to experience a cluster headache than women.

The pain felt during a cluster headache is identified as being very intense and normally manifests as a burning sensation which can temporarily immobilise you for the duration. They typically last for around 35 to 40 minutes but has been known to last up to 2 hours. Cluster headaches are more severe than other headaches and proper long term treatment will require doctor diagnosis and evaluation.

There are two identifiable types of cluster headache: episodic and chronic. Episodic cluster headaches are the more common type and can be identified by up to three short pain attacks around the eyes. These may occur over a period of one or two months followed by a pain free period. On average the pain free period lasts approximately one year. Chronic cluster headaches are similar to episodic cluster headaches but there is no pain free period. These can begin with no prior warning of history of cluster headaches but may also emerge if you have a previous history of episodic cluster headaches.

Treating Cluster Headaches

The pain can be mildly alleviated using anti-migraine drugs but simple painkillers like aspirin are best avoided as they won’t offer the acute pain relief needed and could worsen the pain in a future attack. There are also known therapies for treating cluster headaches. There is a drug injection known as a ‘sumatriptan injection’ which stops the pain within 15 minutes in 75% of cluster headache sufferers which you can use as soon as the headache starts. It adjusts a chemical in the brain which is thought to be involved in initiating both migraines and cluster headaches. An alternative treatment is known as ‘100% oxygen therapy’. Rapidly inhaling pure oxygen for 5 to 15 minutes through a mask helps relieve the pain and can be done as often as necessary but has a lower success rate than the sumatriptan injection. In any instance, if you suffer from cluster headaches then you should seek professional medical advice and contact your doctor.

There are some preventative treatments which can help cluster sufferers. The most common treatment offered is verapamil which is normally used in association with heart difficulties. Because of the nature of the drug, you may need heart scans before being able to use it as the doses used are higher than those used for heart patients. Some steroid medicine, such as prednisolone, can be prescribed as well which can quickly stop future headaches. However, long-term use can have negative side effects and so is often used in conjunction with verapamil but then ceased after a week or two once the effect of the drug has built up sufficiently. Other treatments can involve lithium, which requires regular blood checks to sustain the treatment, and methysergide which should only be used in the short term since it runs the risk of possible serious side effects. Any preventative treatment will have different side effects and you should discuss your options with your doctor. Medical intervention is necessary to help alleviate and prevent pain and your doctor will be able to diagnose you and provide you with whichever treatment is most appropriate for you.