What Are Cluster Headaches?

Common Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

What Is Causing My Pain?

Cluster headaches are often characterized as some of the most intense and painful headaches a person can experience. They get their name for the cyclical nature of their onset, often coming in weekly or monthly bouts before going into remission for a time. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they are debilitating, causing patients weeks of agony and lessening the quality of life.

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What Are the Common Symptoms?

How can you tell the difference between cluster headaches and regular headache or a migraine? The following are the most common symptoms:

Quick onset of pain

Extreme pain, generally situated toward the front of the head or behind the eye (The pain may travel to the face, neck, or other parts of the head)

Pain on one side of the face or body

Redness, excessive tearing, or a drooping of the eyelid on the affected side

Swelling of the eyelid, sweating of the forehead or cheek, and/or a runny nose on the affected side

Rarely, the symptoms will mimic those of a migraine. However, if you’re experiencing cluster headaches, those symptoms also will be relegated to the affected or pain side of the body. 

Cluster Headache Periods

Once a period begins, the individual episodes of the headaches can differ in severity and length. Some people experience more attacks at night; others might have several headaches per day in intervals. These attacks can last from fifteen minutes to several hours.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Unlike migraines, persons suffering from cluster headaches often cannot identify the triggers for the cluster period, but once they start to experience headaches, traditional triggers like alcohol or medication can cause an episode. However, there are identified risk factors for cluster headaches.

  • Men are at higher risk
  • The symptoms often arise between the ages of 20 – 50
  • Smoking can increase the risk
  • Alcohol use is associated with cluster headaches
  • Family history

How Does Dr. Alain de Lotbinière Diagnose Cluster Headaches?

Dr. de Lotbinière will review your medical history and talk with you about your experience to understand if there is a pattern or cyclical nature to your pain. He may employ more in-depth neurological examinations or imaging tests such as an MRI or a CT scan to better pinpoint activity in the brain.

What Are My Treatment Options?

There are treatments to control headaches during an active period as well as preventative measures that can be taken during remission. Depending on your situation, Dr. de Lotbinière may recommend surgical interventions such as sphenopalatine ganglion stimulation or other minimally-invasive treatment options such as a Gamma Knife Radiosurgical procedure to manage your symptoms.

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What Are My Next Steps?

Dr. de Lotbinière is an innovative, experienced neurosurgeon who can help you diagnose and treat your symptoms. Book a consultation at either his Connecticut or New York office, and start on the path to answers today.