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What A Cluster Headache Feels Like

Cluster Headache Treatment

According to the International Headache Society, a Cluster Headache is a rare type of headache that affect around 0.1% of the population. While they are rare, they affect males about 5 times more than females. Even though Cluster Headaches are uncommon, they are regarded as being the most severe and debilitating type of headache. Research has shown out of all 300 different types of headaches and migraines, cluster deadaches were described as having the highest pain levels.

Cluster Headache attacks commonly occur in cycles throughout regular times during the day and will often wake sufferers during the night. Attacks generally last between 15 minutes to 3 hours, and can repeat multiple times per day, or once every couple of days.

Cluster Headaches patients will generally experience periods of attacks that can last weeks to months. These periods are then followed by periods of remission lasting weeks, months or even years without symptoms. Cluster Headaches are severe and debilitating in nature.

Once headache clinicians offer a cluster headache treatment and expect a significant improvement to occur rapidly in 90% of our patients within the first 6 treatment consultations.

Our Cluster Headaches treatment does not require the use of medication or any surgery, it is non-invasive and is completely safe.


Signs And Symptoms

What Does A Cluster Headache Feel Like?

Cluster Headaches are often so severe that a sufferer cannot keep still during an attack. They may pace back and forth or have to take a shower but often have difficulty reducing the pain.

The pain is extreme and is commonly described as a sharp, burning or piercing feeling on one side of the head. Pain is frequently experienced around the eye or temple and generally impacts the same side of the head during each episode.


Associated symptoms can include the following:
  • Severe pain on one-side pain of the head
  • Severe pain around one eye, that can refer further around the face or neck
  • Watery/teary eyes or eye redness
  • Restlessness
  • Shortness of breath and/or a sweaty face
  • Droopy and swollen eyelids
  • Congested or runny nose
  • Flushed or pale skin
Chronic Daily Headache - Sydney Headache & Migraine Clinic

Understand Your Headache

What Triggers Cluster Headaches?

Historically it was believed that cluster headaches, as well as migraines, were caused by the dilation of blood vessels in the brain, leading to headache symptoms. This led to the belief that medications, like triptans, are effective at relieving the pain as it prevents vessel dilation. However, research has now shown that blood vessel dilation occurs in both for headache and migraine sufferers as well as those that don’t experience headaches.  This means that we have been treating the wrong physiological structure.

Current research has shown that Cluster Headaches and migraines arise from increased sensitivity in the central nervous system, more specifically, a sensitised brainstem which is located in the upper cervical spine C1-3 in the neck. Dysfunction in the upper cervical can lead to this sensitised brainstem, which then can refer severe pain and associated symptoms into the head, face and eye. Furthermore, Triptan medication have also recently been shown to de-sensitise the brainstem. This would explain the true mechanism behind cluster headaches being a sensitised brainstem.

This information now indicates cluster headaches and migraines to be a direct result of a neck issue, accompanied by a sensitised brainstem.

About The Assessment Stage

What To Expect During The Assessment

1. Comprehensive and in-depth examination

We instigate an in-depth assessment to identify all possible related factors that could be causing your headaches or migraines. The upper cervical spine, in particular, is thoroughly examined to identify possible issues.

2. Ligamental stability and vertebral arterial tests

We undertake careful examination of neck ligaments and vertebral arteries, ensuring only the highest standards of patient safety and comfort.

3. Temporarily reproduce your headache and migraine symptoms

As a part of the treatment process, we apply gentle and selective stress to the upper cervical spine in order to reproduce headache symptoms, which subside after 20-30 seconds. This helps to identify and treat the cause of your headaches.

Are there different types of Cluster Headache?

Episodic Cluster Headache

Episodic Cluster Headaches account for up to 80% of all Cluster Headache, making it the most common type of Cluster Headache. Episodic symptoms are when patients experience bouts of “cluster periods” that can last for weeks or months. They can occur seasonally or at set times each year. This is normally followed by an extended period in remission that can last for months or even years.

Chronic Cluster Headache

Chronic Cluster Headaches occurs without a prolonged period of remission amd account for roughly 20% of cluster headaches. Sufferers will often have “cluster periods” that will last over a year. Some sufferers may experience headache-free days however, remission periods generally last less than one month.

What Are The Risk Factors for Cluster Headaches

– Men are 3-4 times more likely to experience cluster headaches
– Patients are generally heavy smokers
– High alcohol consumption may be a factor
– Cluster Headaches most commonly affect people aged 20-50
– Patients with family members who are sufferers may be at a higher risk

What causes Cluster Headaches?

As with many forms of headache, the cause of cluster headache was previously unknown. Medical professionals have been prescribing medications such as Triptans, which have been effective at relieving the pain, if taken early enough to ‘catch’ the headache. The effect of Triptans, as most doctors originally thought, was that it predominantly works on migraines as it helps prevent dilatation of the blood vessels in the head to stop migraines.

However, recent studies have shown that dilatation and expansion of the blood vessels are no different to those suffering from a migraine and those who are migraine-free. More importantly, the physiology of blood vessels in the head during a cluster headache do not expand, yet patients still benefit from medications such as Triptans.

I’ve Tried It All, Can You Help Me?

Cluster Headache Treatment

Although cluster headaches are rare, they are still expereinced by the Sydney population. The severity of symptoms causes sufferers to try a range of medical and non-medical therapies in an attempt to resolve them, with mixed results. Often, they have tried; medications, steroid injections, surgical interventions such as nerve blocks or blood vessel cauterisation, and potentially other treatments.

One of the crucial things a cluster headache sufferer needs to accomplish is to find the cause of their symptoms. A thorough examination of your upper cervical spine is initiated to determine the severity of your sensitised brainstem. If you have been found to have a sensitised brainstem, and that it is the cause of your cluster headaches, treatment can begin.

At the Sydney Headache and Migraine Clinic, we aim to use the most up to date research to find the root cause of your cluster headaches. If we examine your cervical spine and find that brainstem is sensitised and the cause of your headaches, then we can use world-leading treatment techniques to address the faults in your upper cervical spine and de-sensitise the brainstem. We have seen a number of Cluster Headache sufferers at our clinics throughout the country, and have an 85-90% success rate with our treatment approach We pride ourselves on being safe, non-invasive and medication-free.

Once treatment commences we expect a significant improvement to occur rapidly in 90% of our patients with Cluster Headaches and within the first 5 treatment consultations.

The best part about the treatment is that it does not require the use of medication, or any surgery, it is non-invasive and is completely safe.

At the Sydney Headache and Migraine Clinic, we have seen many patients with cluster headaches and are experts in treating cluster headaches. Therefore, we pride ourselves on keeping up with the most recent research, and applying the most effective treatments.

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