A cluster headache is also known as a "suicide headache" or an "alarm clock” headache. The former because of its intensity, and the latter because of the regular intervals with which it occurs. Characteristic symptoms are excruciating pain (a stabbing or hot-skewer sensation) in the ocular, frontal, or temporal areas.
The pain often radiates to the upper teeth, jaw, and neck. There are various other symptoms associated with cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches affect 0.1 percent of adults, with males being more susceptible. It normally strikes an individual in their early twenties and peaks in the forties. It appears to affect women later in life, typically in their sixties. Cluster headaches are associated with a family history of headaches, smoking, shift work or head injuries. The diagnosis and management is far from easy.
According to the new criteria to determine a cluster headache, episodes should have occurred at least once a day up to five times a day on at least five occasions with a year, to which no particular reason can be attributed. The episodes should also be of between 15 and 180 minutes duration.
Episodic cluster headaches could be termed as at least two cluster periods lasting seven to 365 days and separated by pain-free remission periods of one month or longer.
Living with a cluster headache still requires a doctor’s supervision. Preventive treatment will be prescribed, which entails sustained medication -- even during episode-free periods -- effective in staving off episodic headaches and reducing the frequency of episodes.
Abortive treatment likely to be prescribed is structured to stop the episode once it has begun.
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