A cluster headache – also known as a ‘suicide headache’ – is among the worst pains that can be experienced. In an article
in the February edition of Australian Prescriber, neurologist Dr Jason Ray and colleagues from the Department of Neurology, Alfred Hospital in Melbourne review the treatment options. Having a plan for long-term prevention and for managing short-term attacks can really help.
“A person with a cluster headache has attacks of severe pain on one side of their head that last from 15 minutes to 3 hours, up to eight times a day,” says Dr Ray.
“This can go on from a week to a year, or longer, sometimes with gaps of several months between attacks,” he says.
The article divides the management of cluster headaches into short-term, long-term and bridging treatments. Short-term treatment can stop a cluster headache, while onger term treatment prevents them from happening. Bridging treatment aims to control cluster headaches while the prevention starts to work.
“Medicines called triptans can bring fast relief. They are given either as a nose spray or an injection. Breathing in oxygen through a well-fitted mask is another option for non-smokers,” says Dr Ray.
“For most people, a medicine called verapamil can reduce the number of attacks over time. If you use this medicine, your doctor will regularly check that it isn’t affecting your heart.
“The steroid prednisolone can help while the prevention medicine verapamil is kicking in.
“People are often living with cluster headache for years before they get diagnosed and start treatment. There are effective treatments out there, so it is important to seek help and no longer suffer in silence,” he said.