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Summer Season Springs Cluster Headaches Into Action

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Press Release: Montefiore, NEW YORK (June 13, 2014) – Did you know that while most people celebrate the start of summer on June 21, nearly 1 million Americans are facing the debilitating pain of cluster headaches due to the Earth’s shift towards the sun? It’s true. The human biological rhythm is tied into the earth’s rotation, making individuals who suffer from cluster headaches encounter unrelenting head pain.

As the name suggests, cluster headaches occur close in proximity and often throughout a day, on average, lasting 30 minutes to three hours. In about 80% of people with cluster headache, head pain lasts for up to 12 weeks each year – most often occurring during seasonal changes. Cluster headache may be accompanied by symptoms such as eye watering or swelling or nasal congestion on the side of the head experiencing pain. Men are up to four times more likely to develop cluster headache than females, which contradicts migraine tendencies.

Cluster headache, also known as ‘suicide headache,’ is a neurological disorder characterized by severe pain behind or around one’s eye,” said Brian M. Grosberg, M.D., director, Montefiore Headache Center and associate professor, Clinical Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. “It is one of the most painful conditions a person can experience, even more incapacitating than a migraine. When patients come in with a cluster headache, they often share how it impacts their personal and professional lives and how the sensation is so severe they feel at the end of their rope.”

The Montefiore Headache Center was the first center in the world to focus exclusively on diagnosis and treatment of headache disorders. Through ongoing work in this area, experts have found that seasonality associated with cluster headache has led to the condition often being misdiagnosed as sinus headache. To help improve diagnoses and encourage collaboration between patients and healthcare specialists, the Center encourages headache sufferers to record headache details in a diary or log.

“I infrequently get a headache, however, during the longest and shortest days of the year, the left side of my face would contort and I would be in severe pain,” said Robert Drain, a former firefighter, who lives in Yonkers. “I would find myself walking in circles; it was almost like I was trying to run away from the agony. By tracking my headaches in a log, Dr. Grosberg and I were able to figure out that I was experiencing cluster headaches.”

For those who suffer from cluster headache and wish to prevent onset of symptoms and help minimize severity of headache pain, Dr. Grosberg recommends the following:

  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking during cluster headache periods.

  • Consider taking the hormone melatonin. It can help regulate sleep-wake cycles and restore imbalances in the body that might be related to cluster headache.

  • Consider the use of breathing in 100% (pure) oxygen for 10-15 minutes to treat an attack of cluster headache. Studies have found that high-flow oxygen inhalation therapy can help relieve cluster headache symptoms within a short period of time.

  • Ask your doctor about prescription medications. Calcium-channel blockers like Verapamil, which is often used to treat high blood pressure, and Imitrex, which is offered as an injectable medication, can be effective in cluster headache pain relief.

  • Speak with a headache specialist about different remedies. Cluster headache can take a lot of trial and error so it is important to have honest and open dialogue with physicians.

Dr. Grosberg has been the recipient of several prestigious awards for his work, including the Clinical Headache Fellowship Award from the American Headache Society. While Dr. Grosberg has extensive experience with clinical trial research, another primary academic area of interest for him is headache-related education. He has authored or co-authored more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and has delivered more than 100 invited lectures on headache and has particular interest in diagnosis, classification and definition of cluster headache.

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One thought on “Summer Season Springs Cluster Headaches Into Action”

  1. websterdj says:

    Thank you for your interesting article on cluster headaches.
    I suffered from this incredibly severe headache, from the age of 13yrs old until I was 42yrs old. I am 60yrs old female .
    Everything written above is true. Suicide headache is a very apt description.
    When you are a child, at school, experiencing one of these headaches is akin to thinking that you were going to die. I have had three children, and two dreadful pregnancies, resulting in emergency surgery. I suffer from three different types of arthritis now, and also had Ménière’s disease, and a life time of pain it seems. But, nothing, nothing, comes close to a Cluster headache.
    I have trawled through my local library, even ordered medical books from a medical library, to try and find out exactly what was wrong with me, and why no doctor seemed able to take away my pain, or even understand it. No one had been able to diagnose my condition, but they saw just what a dreadful state I was in.
    One day, once again, I ended up at the local hospital, in severe pain. A locum was in the emergency room, and immediately took me into a private room, dimmed the lights, and sat down and held my hand, very gently. After listening to me and checking me over, he told me that his wife also had the same problem as me, and that I had Cluster headaches.
    I was astounded that finally, ( I was 25yrs old by then), a doctor knew what was wrong. He said that it was a chemical imbalance in my head. But, better than that, he had the answer to my prayers and my pain!
    He prescribed a Cafergot suppository. (Rather like a white, waxy magic bullet)! A nurse came and gave me the suppository, and within 20mins I was nearly pain free! HALLELUJAH!!!!
    I felt a little sickly, but, that was nothing. The dosage is only 5 suppositories a week, so I would break them in half, or a quarter, as I had the headaches so often.
    I never looked back.
    When I was 42yrs old, the headaches, suddenly stopped. Whatever the chemical imbalance was, it must have sorted itself out.
    Not long before they stopped, I had the worst headache of my life. I used to have to strip my clothes off, as I sweated a lot with the pain, and sit on the floor, because I was very unsteady on my feet. I would rock myself backwards and forwards, and try holding my breath, to lessen the pain. Then, something happened that I didn’t understand. Suddenly something seemed to shoot through my head, and I wet myself, and felt rather strange. As it was Saturday evening, I did not bother my doctor, until the Monday. He said I had probably had a TIA, a small stroke. Apparently, I should have gone to hospital immediately. It was after this incident, whatever it was, that the headaches started to taper off.
    That was the January. I had my last Cluster headache in the November, when I was 42yrs old.
    Thirty years of relentless agony, was finally over!
    To this day I am good, no more headaches, but I will never forget the sheer terror I felt when one was coming on.
    Thankfully, times have moved on, and I wrote this rather long, sorry tale, to let you know that you are not alone, and the good doctor who wrote this piece, is onto your pain.
    I just want you to know that CAFERGOT ( Ergotamine) suppositories saved my sanity, and I sincerely hope you try them and that they save yours.
    Thank you most sincerely to the above doctor, for having an interest in Cluster headaches.
    Thank you for reading my story, and remember, this could be your answer also. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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