Living with cluster headaches

General information

  • Keep a headache calendar or diary. Mark down when you get a headache, how long it lasts, and what medications you took to help relieve the pain. To download a headache calendar you can use, click here.
  • Make sure that you have an adequate supply of medication on hand. Cluster headaches can be unpredictable and planning ahead will prevent the need to scramble for medications.
  • Learn as much as you can about cluster headaches. A list of Web sites dedicated to cluster headaches is available here.

Non-drug measures

Cluster headaches can have many different triggers. Try to identify specific triggers for your headaches and avoid them if possible. For many, alcohol is a particularly common trigger. Avoid it completely during a cluster period.

Learn and practice relaxation techniques. Click here for more information.

Stopping smoking has been associated with a lower recurrence of cluster headaches. Yet another reason to quit!

Drug treatment for cluster headaches

Since cluster headaches are short in duration, you need to treat them as soon as possible. Because of this short duration, tablets for acute treatment generally aren't effective because they take too long to work. Typically, sumatriptan injection or nasal spray is the most effective acute treatment.

Medications for cluster headaches are divided into acute, transitional and preventive medication categories.

  • Acute medications: those used to relieve the headache pain as fast as possible.
  • Transitional medications: those used to "turn off" a cluster period as soon as possible.
  • Preventive medications : those used to prevent the cluster periods from recurring.

Goals

Remember your treatment goals:

  • Eliminate emergency room visits for headache treatment.
  • Develop a home program that works and is well tolerated.
  • Minimize the impact of your cluster headaches on your work, school and family activities.

Follow-up

If you have an appointment scheduled, be sure to keep it. If the headache pattern worsens, call your doctor.

Resources

  • For a list of books and articles related to cluster headaches, click here.