Are Your Chronic Headaches Clusters?

May 13, 2015

Are you coping on your own with chronic headaches? Like many other sufferers did you decide to self-diagnose your chronic migraine condition? A recent Everyday Health article highlighted a serious issue concerning the mistaken identities of headaches. Without knowing whether your headaches are indeed migraines, or quite possibly cluster headaches, you might not be getting the right treatment and could be suffering needlessly!

Cluster headaches and migraines do in fact share some similar symptoms and could be easily confused with one another. But there are significant differences that can solve the mystery of just which type of chronic headache condition is causing a person’s symptoms and disability.

FREQUENCY: Chronic migraines occur on at least 15 days out of every month, and last between a few hours to 3 days. Chronic headaches that are cluster type, arrive and depart suddenly, and transpire in cycles between a couple of weeks and 3 months. According to the International Headache Society, they are classified as chronic headaches when they occur for over a year, with a maximum 1-month respite.

PAIN: Cluster headache pain has been described as severe burning or stabbing, and it occurs on one side of the head. These headaches can be located around the eye. The moderate to severe pain associated with migraines is typically characterized as throbbing or pulsing, and is located on one side or the entire head.

OTHER SYMPTOMS: Migraines are notably accompanied by symptoms such as light sensitivity, vertigo, head congestion and nausea. Cluster headaches on the contrary present similar signs to those of sinus headaches, such as runny noses and a watery eye. Facial sweating and agitation might also accompany these attacks. Migraines are distinguished by preceding visual events like vision loss, or the appearance of jagged lines or flashing lights, known as ‘aura.’

CAUSES: It is believed that both migraines and cluster headaches involve pain signals that travel along the trigeminal nerve in the head, and that increased blood flow to the area imposes pressure onto this nerve causing headache symptoms. The Omega migraine procedure, which works by stimulating the occipital and/or trigeminal nerves, thereby blocking pain signals, might be an excellent treatment for both chronic headache conditions.

TREATMENT: Many abortive medications that are commonly used for migraines are also prescribed to treat cluster headaches. These include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) and triptans. Pure oxygen is also prescribed as a preventative therapy for cluster headaches. Speed is key when taking abortive therapies for this type of headache, so nasal sprays and injections can work quicker than tablets. Preventative medication is also prescribed for both conditions.

While migraines are often, though inaccurately, referred to as a woman’s ailment, cluster headaches affect men more frequently than they do women. Data from the American College of Physicians indicates that cluster headaches are not nearly as common as migraines, and affect approximately 1 million people. In contrast, according to the National Headache Foundation migraines affect approximately 37 million people. A proper medical diagnosis is the only way to be sure about exactly what type of chronic headache condition you have.

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