Cluster Headache Treatment: Types of Treatments and Medications


Cluster headaches are also referred to as histamine headaches. These are also classified as neurovascular headaches. While tension headaches or migraine headaches are more common compared to cluster headaches, cluster headaches can also be a very painful experience. As its name suggests, cluster headaches are described as painful attacks of headaches in clusters which occur over a period of weeks and even months. If you are experiencing such problems, you should know about the different cluster headache treatment methods that are available and which one is best for you.

An Overview of Cluster Headaches

A person suffering from cluster headaches may experience several headaches in a day for a period of weeks and even months. The pain that is associated with cluster headaches can reach its peak within 5 minutes and may last for over an hour. This medical disorder is usually interrupted or followed by a headache-free period. Compared to the number of individuals suffering from migraine headaches, there are as much as five to eight men and women who have cluster headaches. Many people experience their first attack of cluster headaches at the age of 25 but there are some who may experience it during their teenage years or during their early 50’s.

Depends on the Type of Cluster Headaches

The kind of cluster headache treatment that is administered to a patient will also be based depending on the type of cluster headache that the patient is suffering from. There are two types of cluster headaches: the episodic and the chronic. The episodic type of cluster headache is more common compared to the chronic type of cluster headache. Episodic cluster headaches occur twice or thrice a day for a period of about two months and the person suffering may have a pain-free period of about a year. This pattern will then keep repeating itself.

Cluster Headache Treatment and Medications

There is no known permanent cure for cluster headaches. The aim of most cluster headache treatment and medications is to help reduce the severity of the pain experienced, prevent the attacks from happening as well as to shorten the length and the period of time that it occurs. Since the pain brought about by cluster headaches may occur suddenly and may disappear within a short period of time, pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin are not effective. However, there are now cluster headache treatment in the form of acute medication and preventive techniques used to treat cluster headaches.

Acute Treatments

The first type of cluster headache treatment is through acute treatments. Acute treatments are fast-acting treatments that can quickly be administered by your doctor. These acute treatments include inhaling oxygen. A brief inhalation of 100% oxygen can provide a relief from cluster headaches in as short as 15 minutes. One disadvantage of this safe and inexpensive treatment is your need to carry around a heavy oxygen cylinder as well as a regulator. While there are some smaller oxygen units available, there are still some who find it impractical and inconvenient at times.

Triptan, which is the injectable version of sumatriptan, is also an effective cluster headache treatment. This is also one of the most commonly used treatments for migraine headaches. The first use of triptan is often administered under medical observation. While there are some individuals who benefit from the use of sumaptriptan in a nasal spray form, there are a lot more patients who do not find sumatriptan nasal sprays as effective as the triptan injectables. However, the use of sumatriptan is not recommended for people who suffer from ischemic heart diseases or high blood pressure.

There is another type of triptan medication used as a cluster headache treatment. This is called zolmitriptan and it is available in nasal spray as well as tablet forms. This medication provides relief for cluster headaches and may be used by individuals whose body cannot tolerate the other types of acute treatments. The octreotide is another medication that can be used to treat cluster headaches and can also be safely used by people who suffer from ischemic heart diseases or high blood pressure. This is an injectable synthetic form of the brain hormone called somatostatin.

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Preventive Treatments for Cluster Headaches

Preventive cluster headache treatments are designed to suppress and prevent attacks from happening. The right kind of medication that can be used will be based on the regularity of the attacks as well as the length of the attack episode. There are several medications that can be taken to suppress or to prevent cluster headache attacks. These include calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids, lithium carbonate, nerve block, ergots and melatonin. However, the two of the most commonly used preventive treatments are the calcium channel blockers and the corticosteroids
Calcium channel blockers are often the first and the most preferred choice for cluster headache treatment. Verapamil, which is a calcium channel blocking drug, is generally used in conjunction with other types of medications. If the patient is suffering from chronic cluster headaches, this treatment is usually recommended for a long term use. Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil may result in some side effects including dizziness, fatigue, low blood pressure, swelling of the ankles as well as nausea.

Cortiscosteroids are inflammation-suppressing drugs used as a preventive medication for cluster headaches. These are fast acting drugs that belong to the family of steroids. These drugs are often prescribed if a patient has just recently experienced his or her first attack of cluster headaches. This preventive cluster headache treatment is also commonly prescribed if the patient is experiencing brief periods of cluster headaches accompanied by long remissions. Corticosteroids are ideal short term treatments but are not recommended for a long term use since it may result in negative side effects.