Cluster headache

Definition:
A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are extremely rare.Cluster headaches are characterized by an intense one-sided pain centered by the eye or temple. The pain lasts for one to two hours on average and may recur several times in a day.

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Cluster headaches consist of brief periods of pain, often excruciating, in one part of the head. they occur in a characteristic pattern, usually between one and four times a day, and there may be gaps or months or years between each group of headaches. however, a small number of people have chronic cluster headaches that occur at regular intervals with very few remission periods between attacks. Like migraines, cluster headaches are likely to be related to an increase in blood flow as a result of widening of the blood vessels in the brain. Cluster headaches affect about 1 million people in the US, 9 in 10 of whom are men. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol increase the risk. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and occasionally by taking medications.

While migraines are diagnosed more often in women, cluster headaches are diagnosed more often in men. The male-to-female ratio in cluster headache ranges from 4:1 to 7:1. It primarily occurs between the ages of 20 to 50 years. This gap between the sexes has narrowed over the past few decades, and it is not clear whether cluster headaches are becoming more frequent in women, or whether they are merely being better diagnosed. Limited epidemiological studies have suggested prevalence rates of between 56 and 326 people per 100,000. Latitude plays a role in the occurrence of cluster headaches, which are more common as one moves away from the equator towards the poles.

Cluster headache, nicknamed “suicide headache,” is a neurological disease that involves, as its most prominent feature, an immense degree of pain. “Cluster” refers to the tendency of these headaches to occur periodically, with active periods interrupted by spontaneous remissions.

Causes:

The cause of the disease is currently unknown.Biochemical, hormonal, and vascular changes induce cluster headaches, but why these changes occur remains unclear. Episodic cluster headaches seem to be linked to changes in day length, possibly signaling a connection to the so-called biological clock. Alcohol, tobacco, histamine, or stress can trigger cluster headaches. Decreased blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) can also act as a trigger, particularly during the night when an individual is sleeping. Interestingly, the triggers do not cause cluster headaches during remission periods.

Symptoms:
Cluster headaches often develop early in the morning. The major symptoms, which appear suddenly and affect one side of the head or face, include:

· severe pain around one eye or temple.
· watering and redness of the eye.
· drooping of the eyelid.
· stuffiness in the nostril and, sometimes, a runny nose on one side.
· flushing of one side of the face.

Individual episodes of pain may last from a few minutes to 3 hours. The average attack lasts 15-30 minutes. If you have a sudden, severe headache for the first time or if you have symptoms that are different from those of previous headaches, you should consult your doctors at once so that a more serious underlying cause can be excluded.

Cluster headaches are extremely painful, unilateral headaches of a piercing quality. The duration of the common attack is 15 minutes to three hours. Onset of an attack is rapid, and most often without the preliminary signs that are characteristic of a migraine. However, some sufferers report preliminary sensations of diverse description, often referred to as “shadows,” that may warn them an attack is imminent. Though the headaches are almost exclusively unilateral, there are many documented cases of “side-shifting” between cluster periods, or, even rarer, simultaneously (within the same cluster period) bilateral headache. They are often intially mistaken for brain tumors and Multiple Sclerosis often until patients are treated with corticosteroids and then imaged. Trigeminal neuralgia can also bring on headaches with similar qualities.

Pain
The degree of pain involved in cluster headaches is markedly greater than in other headache conditions, including migraine. It has been described by female patients as being more severe than childbirth. The pain is lancinating or boring in quality, and is located behind the eye or in the temple, sometimes radiating to the neck or shoulder. An analogy frequently used to describe the pain is that it is like a red-hot poker inserted into the eye. The condition was originally named Hortons Neuralgia after Dr. B.T Horton who postulated the first theory as to their pathologenesis. His original paper describes the severity of the headaches as being able to take normal men and force them to suicide.

From Horton’s 1939 original paper on cluster headache:

“Our patients were disabled by the disorder and suffered from bouts of pain from two to twenty times a week. They had found no relief from the usual methods of treatment. Their pain was so severe that several of them had to be constantly watched for fear of suicide. Most of them were willing to submit to any operation which might bring relief”

Other symptoms
The cardinal symptoms of the cluster headache attack are ptosis (drooping eyelid), conjunctival injection (red-eye), lacrimation (tearing), rhinorrhea (runny nose), and, less commonly, facial blushing, swelling, or sweating. These features are known as the autonomic symptoms. The attack is also associated with restlessness, the sufferer often pacing the room or rocking back and forth. Less frequently, he or she will have an aversion to bright lights and loud noise during the attack. Nausea is not typical of cluster headache, though it has been reported. The neck is often stiff or tender in the aftermath of a headache, with jaw or tooth pain sometimes present.


Cyclical recurrence and regular timing

Cluster headaches are occasionally referred to as “alarm clock headaches”, because of the regularity of its timing and its ability to wake a person from sleep. Thus it has been known to strike at the same time each night or morning, often at precisely the same time during the day a week later. This has prompted researchers to speculate an involvement of the brain’s “biological clock” or circadian rhythm. In some cases, cluster headaches remain “steady” without cyclical ups and downs for days.


Episodic or chronic

In episodic cluster headache, these attacks occur once or more daily, often at the same times each day, for a period of several weeks, followed by a headache-free period lasting weeks, months, or years. Approximately 10–15% of cluster headache sufferers are chronic; they can experience multiple headaches every day for years.

Cluster headaches occurring in two or more cluster periods lasting from 7 to 365 days with a pain-free remission of one month or longer between the clusters are considered episodic. If the attacks occur for more than a year without a pain-free remission of at least one month, the condition is considered chronic.[1] Chronic clusters run continuously without any “remission” periods between cycles. The condition may change from chronic to episodic and from episodic to chronic. Remission periods lasting for decades before the resumption of clusters have been known to occur.

Pathophysiology:
Cluster headaches are classified as vascular headaches. The intense pain is caused by the dilation of blood vessels which creates pressure on the trigeminal nerve. While this process is the immediate cause of the pain, the etiology (underlying cause or causes) is not fully understood.

Hypothalamus:
Among the most widely accepted theories is that cluster headaches are due to an abnormality in the hypothalamus; a British specialist of the disease, Dr. Goadsby has developed this theory. This can explain why cluster headaches frequently strike around the same time each day, and during a particular season, since one of the functions the hypothalamus performs is regulation of the biological clock. Metabolic abnormalities have also been reported in patients.

The hypothalamus is responsive to light—daylength and photoperiod; olfactory stimuli, including pheromones; steroids, including sex steroids and corticosteroids; neurally transmitted information arising in particular from the heart, the stomach, and the reproductive system; autonomic inputs; blood-borne stimuli, including leptin, ghrelin, angiotensin, insulin, pituitary hormones, cytokines, blood plasma concentrations of glucose and osmolarity, etc.; and stress. These particular sensitivities may underlay the causes, triggers, and methods of treatment of cluster headache.

Genetics
There is a genetic component to cluster headaches, although no single gene has been identified as the cause. First-degree relatives of sufferers are more likely to have the condition than the population at large. However, genetics appears to play a much smaller role in cluster headache than in some other types of headaches.

Diagnosis
Cluster headache symptoms guide the diagnosis. A medical examination includes recording headache details, such as frequency and duration, when it occurs, pain intensity and location, possible triggers, and any prior symptoms. This history allows other potential problems to be discounted.

Treatment:
Cluster headaches often go undiagnosed for many years, being confused with migraine or other causes of headache.

Medically, cluster headaches are considered benign, but because of the extreme and often debilitating pain associated with them, a severe attack is nevertheless treated as a medical emergency by doctors who are familiar with the condition. Because of the relative rareness of the condition and ambiguity of the symptoms, some sufferers may not receive treatment in the emergency room and patients may even be mistaken as exhibiting drug-seeking behavior.

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Over-the-counter pain medications (such as aspirin, paracetamol, and ibuprofen) typically have no effect on the pain from a cluster headache. Unlike other headaches such as migraines and tension headaches, cluster headaches do not respond to biofeedback.

Some have reported partial relief from narcotic pain killers. Anecdotal evidence indicates that cluster headaches can be so excruciating that even morphine does little to ease the pain. However, some newer medications like fentanyl (and Percocet) have shown promise in early studies and use.

Medications to treat cluster headaches are classified as either abortives or prophylactics (preventatives). In addition, short-term transitional medications (such as steroids) may be used while prophylactic treatment is instituted and adjusted. With abortive treatments often only decreasing the duration of the headache and preventing it from reaching its peak rather than eliminating it entirely, preventive treatment is always indicated for cluster headaches, to be started at the first sign of a new cluster cycle.

In many cases, some doctors have tried the use of beta blockers as a treatment.

Prophylactic treatment
A wide variety of prophylactic medicines are in use, and patient response to these is highly variable. Current European guidelines suggest the use of the calcium channel blocker verapamil at a dose of at least 240 mg daily. Steroids, such as prednisolone, are also effective, with a high dose given for the first five days before tapering down. Methysergide, lithium and the anticonvulsant topiramate are recommended as alternative treatments.

Muscle relaxants and atypical anti-psychotics have also been used.

Magnesium supplements have been shown to be of some benefit in about 40% of patients. Melatonin has also been reported to help some.

Other neuropathic pain alleviating agents can also be used such as amyltryptaline

Non-established and research approaches
There is substantial anecdotal evidence that serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin (mushrooms) and LSD and LSA d-Lysergic acid amide (Rivea corymbosa seeds) abort cluster periods and extend remission periods. Melatonin, psilocybin, serotonin, and the triptan abortive drugs are closely-related tryptamines.

Dr. Andrew Sewell and Dr. John Halpern at McLean Hospital in Boston have investigated the ability of low doses of psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) to treat cluster headaches. Dr. Sewell examined medical records of 53 patients who had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms and reported in Neurology that the majority of them found partial or complete relief from cluster attacks. A clinical study of these treatments under the auspices of MAPS is being developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital.

Within the United States, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 makes it illegal to possess hallucinogens (including psilocybin and LSD), classifying them as Schedule I drugs with no legitimate medical use. Patients who use psilocybin to treat their symptoms face legal prosecution, although there are no known convictions.

What might be done?
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-migraine drug, which will help reduce the length of a cluster attack and decrease the severity of the headaches. anti-migraine drugs should be taken as soon as possible after the headache starts. If these drugs do not help, lithium is some effective.

If the cluster is prolonged, a short course of corticosteroids may help prevent the headaches from recurring. These drugs should be gradually reduced in dose, as advised by your doctor, as the headaches disappear.

If you have cluster headaches, you should not smoke cigarettes or drink even small amounts of alcohol because both increase the risk of an attack.

Cluster headaches may continue for the rest of your life, but you may have prolonged periods of remission.

Home Care
Keep a headache diary to help identify the source or trigger of your symptoms. Then modify your environment or habits to avoid future headaches. When a headache occurs, write down the date and time the headache began, what you ate for the past 24 hours, how long you slept the night before, what you were doing and thinking about just before the headache started, any stress in your life, how long the headache lasts, and what you did to make it stop. After a period of time, you may begin to see a pattern.

A headache may be relieved by resting with your eyes closed and head supported. Relaxation techniques can help. A massage or heat applied to the back of the upper neck can be effective in relieving tension headaches.

Try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen for tension headaches. DO NOT give aspirin to children because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Migraine headaches may respond to aspirin, naproxen, or combination migraine medications.

If over-the-counter remedies do not control your pain, talk to your doctor about possible prescription medications.

Prescription medications used for migraine headaches include ergotamine, dihydroergotamine, ergotamine with caffeine (Cafergot), isometheptene (Midrin), and triptans like sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt), eletriptan (Relpax), almotriptan (Axert), and zolmitriptan (Zomig). Sometimes medications to relieve nausea and vomiting are helpful for other migraine symptoms.

If you get headaches often, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent headaches before they occur. Examples of these include:

Antidepressants such as nortriptyline (Pamelor), amitriptyline (Elavil), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), sertraline (Zoloft), or paroxetine (Paxil) for tension or migraine headache
Beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal) for frequent migraine headaches
Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil for frequent migraine headaches
Anti-epileptic medicines such as topiramate (Topamax)
If you are using pain medications more than 2 days a week, you may be suffering from rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are caused by a cycle of using pain medications for short-term relief, followed by the headache pain returning for increasingly longer periods of time despite taking more pain medications.

All types of pain pills (including over-the-counter drugs), muscle relaxants, some decongestants, and caffeine can cause this pattern. If you think this may be a problem for you, talk to your health care provider.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluster_headache
http://www.charak.com/DiseasePage.asp?thx=1&id=4
www.healthline.com/adamcontent/headache?
http://www.healthatoz.com/

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