Dealing with the pain of a cluster headache is not an easy task but one that can be done with a little help. There are at home treatments such as caffeine, over-the-counter medicines and getting a lot sleep in a dark quiet room. Some people are able to control the pain with these methods while other sufferers need the help of a doctor. Here are some tests to help diagnose and treatment options to help with the pain associated with cluster headaches.
Tests and Examinations to Diagnose a Cluster Headache
One of the things a doctor might ask a headache sufferer to do is keep a headache journal for at least two months. Each time a headache occurs, jot down the following information:
- a description and severity of the pain
- the location and duration of the pain
- any medications that were taken before and during
- the time
- what was being eaten or drunk
A headache journal can offer valuable clues that may help a doctor diagnose a particular kind of headache and discover possible headache triggers.
A neurological examination can help a doctor detect physical signs of a cluster headache. Sometimes the pupil may appear smaller, or eyelids may droop, even between attacks.
Two common brain-imaging tests are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This is used to rule out a different cause of the cluster headaches such as a tumor or other blockage.
Cluster Headache Treatment Options
When dealing with a cluster headache the sufferer needs not only a short term solution or medication but also a long term one to help with future cluster periods. After the headaches are under control there is a good chance that the short term medication will be able to be discontinued.
Short term medications are used to help with the cluster headaches while waiting for the long term medications to kick in. While relief might not be as instant as the headache sufferer might like they are designed to make the pain manageable. Some common short term options include:
- Corticosteroids – Inflammation-suppressing drugs called corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are fast-acting preventive medications. Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroids after the first cluster headache diagnosis or after a long remission period. Since corticosteroids is part of the steroid family, doctors will want to monitor its use as long term use can be dangerous.
- Nerve block – This includes injecting a numbing agent (anesthetic) and corticosteroid into the area around the occipital nerve to help prevent pain messages from traveling along that nerve pathway. An occipital nerve block is very useful for temporary relief until long-term preventive medications take effect.
Long-term medications are taken during the entire cluster period. Some people with chronic cluster headache may need to take two or more long-term medications simultaneously.
Calcium channel blockers are often the first choice for preventing cluster headache. Some people are able to be weaned off of the medications long after the cluster headache has subsided. Occasionally, longer term use is needed to manage chronic cluster headache. There are some side effects including swollen ankles which may hinder a sufferer’s ability to stay on these medications long term.
Lithium carbonate which is also used to treat bipolar disorder is also effective in preventing chronic cluster headache. While taking this medication, blood checks will be done at regular intervals to check for the development of a serious side effect, such as kidney damage.
Keep in mind what works for some people might not work for others. The key is finding the combination that works for each cluster headache suffer as even a little relief is better than nothing.
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