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Cluster headaches are characterized by an intense one-sided pain centered by the eye or temple. The pain lasts for one to two hours on average and may recur several times in a day.
Cluster headaches have been known as histamine headaches, red migraines, and Horton's disease, among others. The constant factor is the pain, which transcends by far the distress of the more common tension-type headache or even that of a migraine headache.
Cluster headaches afflict less than 0.5% of the population and predominantly affect men; approximately 80% of sufferers are male. Onset typically occurs in the late 20s, but there is no absolute age restriction. Approximately 80% of cluster headaches are classified as episodic; the remaining 20% are considered chronic. Both display the same symptoms. However, episodic cluster headaches occur during one- to five-month periods followed by sixto 24-month attack-free, or remission, periods. There is no such reprieve for chronic cluster headache sufferers.
Biochemical, hormonal, and vascular changes induce cluster headaches, but why these changes occur remains unclear. Episodic cluster headaches seem to be linked to changes in day length, possibly signaling a connection to the so-called biological clock. Alcohol, tobacco, histamine, or stress can trigger cluster headaches. Decreased blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) can also act as a trigger, particularly during the night when an individual is sleeping. Interestingly, the triggers do not cause cluster headaches during remission periods.
The primary cluster headache symptom is excruciating one-sided head pain centered behind an eye or near the temple. This pain may radiate outward from the initial focus and encompass the mouth and teeth. For this reason, some cluster headache sufferers may mistakenly attribute their pain to a dental problem. Secondary symptoms, occurring on the same side as the pain, include eye tearing, nasal congestion followed by a runny nose, pupil contraction, and facial drooping or flushing.
Cluster headache symptoms guide the diagnosis. A medical examination includes recording headache
details, such as frequency and duration, when it occurs, pain intensity and location, possible triggers, and any prior symptoms. This history allows other potential problems to be discounted.
Author Info: Julia Barrett, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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