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Cluster Headaches - What Are They, What is Their Remedy?
by Jack Wellman
2010-01-09 10:13:00
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Cluster headaches have been termed “suicide headaches” because they hurt so badly that the person wants relief so badly that they even consider suicide. I have had experience with them myself and they are aptly named but I don‘t get them several days in a row, fortunately. I have tried everything my doctor has suggested or prescribed. It is described as a disease and the cause is still unknown which makes treatment frustratingly difficult. There were times that victims would continually grab their heads in agony and groan or cry for hours. Some have tried using oxygen tanks with minimal results. Having surgery is inconclusive.

Cluster headaches can cause a persons life to be unmanageable and interfere with work, their social life and even trying to relax at home. They are predominantly associated with men and affect about 1% of the population. Even at one in every hundred, this is a considerable number.

Attacks range from about two hours, up to eight days in a row, when sheer exhaustion causes the headaches to subside. Medical experts believe that it may be the worse pain experienced by human beings. It has been described by patients as having multiple knives, simultaneously pierce ones skull, from the eye, up into the nasal passages, from the temples, from behind the neck, all pointing toward upward, toward the crown of the head.

Some patients end up running their heads under cold water full blast from kitchen and bathroom sinks. The victim sometimes pulls their hair out, is unable to eat, can not sleep, falls down from exhaustion. It often forces the victim into suicidal thoughts, thus the term for it “suicide headaches”. Many of the victims have begged family members, friends and even strangers, to take their life. This reveals how extremely severe they can be. There is a support group for cluster headaches (clusterheadaches.com) but the website, like the medical field, has no real suggestions for treatment. Its origins remain a mystery and even the Mayo Clinic is stumped in how to prevent it, not to mention, how to treat the severe symptoms.

Imagine trying to do your job, whatever it is, when a cluster headache hits. What if you’re driving with your family, or you’re a truck driver, in a factory, flying a single engine aircraft, on vacation, in church, in school, etc. You can see how severely this could impact your life and your lifestyle.

Cluster headaches are not brought by foods, stress, hormone changes and might be associated with abnormalities of the hypothalamus portion of the brain. Since there is no cure or treatment, a person suffering from cluster headaches can only try a gambit of different things. As mentioned before, breathing from an oxygen mask helps some, but only minutely. It does not stop the attacks. Ice packs give little relief and they can only work in remote areas and can not cover the entire head at one time.

The use of Octreotide injections, which is a synthetic hormone similar to that found in the brain, does not prevent the attacks nor lesson the severity of them. Triptan drugs can provide some quick relief, but they are no cure and relief is often short-lived. Sometimes drugs have no effect. Even acupuncture has been tried but with no better results than the victim running their head under extremely cold water. But even that is only temporary, until they remove their head from under the faucet. With the use of drugs, the pain can be so excruciating that overdoes are a clear danger due to the frustration of continuing pain.

Even the Mayo Clinic’s research for treatment, not to mention a cure, has been fruitless. Cluster headaches have stumped all the medical field experts so far and even with ongoing research, victims have little hope in the near future for relief. It remains a true medical mystery and one that, unfortunately, lives up to its name all too well; that of suicide headaches. The sheer agony of cluster headaches has been as extreme as it gets, but medical research continues to try and solve this mysterious disease. I’m continuing to find more answers myself for this most debilitating disease. I will keep you posted in the event that you know someone who is likewise afflicted with this most agonizing of chronic conditions that are known to humans.


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