Everybody at some point in their life has had a headache. But for some Americans, headaches define their day to day existence. The presence of incredibly debilitating cluster headaches can significantly affect somebody’s work and relationships. For these Americans, new treatments are needed urgently to relieve their suffering. Luckily for these people, hope could be on the horizon, as a prospective study carried out at the London National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery has identified occipital blocks as an effective treatment for a cluster headache.
What is Cluster Headache?
Patients with a cluster headache suffer from intense attacks of severe pain usually localized to one side of the head, typically around the eye. These headaches last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours and can vary significantly in frequency. For some, they may have them every other day whilst others suffer upwards of 8 attacks a day. Patients will often complain of cluster periods – this is months of weeks where attacks “cluster” before they experience a period of relative relief. When attacks occur there are a number of other symptoms the patient may suffer.
- Watering eyes
- A bloodshot red eye
- A runny nose
- Droopy eyelid
There are also a number of associated “risk factors” that increased the likelihood one suffers from the disease. These include:
- Male sex (men suffer cluster headaches at a ratio of 3:1)
- Family history
- Previous history of head injury
What treatments can I expect if I suffer from a cluster headache?
There are a number of treatments on the market for a cluster headache which broadly can be split into chronic preventative treatment and acute management for when the attacks occur. When an attack occurs the evidence suggests breathing 100% oxygen is the most effective treatment, followed by a drug known as sumatriptan (which is also used in migraine treatment). For chronic preventative therapy drugs like verapamil (a calcium channel blocker usually used to treat high blood pressure) have been shown to have the best effects.
However, for many patients, these therapies don’t resolve their symptoms. As such peripheral nerve blocks have been explored as a possible treatment option. A study published in 2013 found that occipital nerve blocks were an effective long-term treatment with almost 40% of patients becoming totally pain-free following the injection. A further 15% of patients had partial pain relief. Amazingly, the treatment worked long-term and patients still experience relief following their second third and forth follow up injections (the fourth injection was the final injection trialed in the study but theoretically a patient could continue to have injections). These injections usually occur about 3-4 following the previous treatment. These blocks are offered at specialist pain management centres across the United States. If you or somebody you know suffers from a cluster headache – get in contact now.