The excruciating stabbing pain of a cluster headache arrives suddenly, lasts from 15 minutes to several hours and comes in "clusters" of headaches extending anywhere from a week to a year. Most medications work too slowly to be an effective cluster headache migraine treatment, and the pain is too severe to respond to over-the-counter medications. However, there are some preventive and cluster migraine headache treatment procedures available. Click on to learn more.
Treating Cluster Headaches
The key to treating cluster is fast relief. Oxygen and prescriptions that can be absorbed quickly are the first line of defense.
- Oxygen: Breathing pure oxygen for up to 15 minutes provides considerable relief to most cluster headache sufferers. Raising blood oxygen levels relaxes constricted blood vessels, providing quick relief. It is the most common treatment for cluster headache.
- Prescription Medications: Ergotamine tartrate (also used in migraine treatment) taken under the tongue to speed absorption is used to treat existing headaches, as is an injection of sumatriptan (also used in migraine treatment). Nasal applications of lidocaine, a local anesthetic, have shown promise in several studies. Nasal applications of butorphanol, a powerful painkiller, have also successfully treated the pain of cluster headache.
Preventing Chronic Cluster Headaches
Several prescription medications have been successful in treating cluster headaches during a cluster period.
- Methysergide: Methysergide, which is also used to prevent migraine, is believed to prevent cluster headaches by constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. It has serious side effects, however, and can be used only for brief periods, generally for the length of a cluster period.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, particularly prednisone and methylprednisolone, are used for short-term cluster therapy, due to potential serious side effects with longer-term use.
- Lithium Carbonate: Lithium carbonate has been found to be effective in treating chronic cluster headaches, possibly due to its ability to its impact on the electrical system within the brain.
- Calcium Channel Blockers: Calcium channel blockers, typically used in treating cardiovascular conditions, are used to treat cluster headache episodes and chronic cluster headaches. They may work by blocking the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that stimulate nerve cells) involved in causing pain.