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Headaches and cluster headaches

Our multi-disciplinary neuroscience team can help diagnose and provide pain relief for debilitating cluster headaches

About

A headache is the symptom of pain anywhere in the head or neck region. It can occur as migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches — a severe headache where the pain is usually limited to one side of the head.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of headaches and cluster headaches icon plus

    Symptoms of a headache include:

    • sharp pain, throbbing or ache in the head
    • pain on both sides of the head or located in just one area

    Symptoms of a cluster headache include:

    • headaches that occur in regular 'clusters' — usually every day for six to 12 week periods
    • sudden, severe pain on one side of the head, usually around one eye
    • swelling or redness in the eye on the painful side
    • runny nose on the painful side
    • pain down the neck and shoulders
    • sweaty face
    • sensitivity to light

    Cluster headaches can be excruciating, and people may rock and pace to cope with the pain.

  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and help to make a diagnosis. Cluster headaches have a distinct pattern of attacks. Describing the severity of the pain, the symptoms and the frequency of the attacks, will help your consultant make a diagnosis. They may also order brain scans to rule out underlying problems. These include:

    • CT scan. This shows detailed images of your brain through.
    • MRI scan. This shows detailed images of your brain and blood vessels.

    A neurology exam, which tests your brain function, may also reveal signs of cluster headaches.

  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    There are no cures for cluster headaches, but the pain can be managed:

    • Medication. Powerful pain killers such as corticosteroids can provide pain-relief.
    • Nerve blocks. Corticosteroids and an anaesthetic are injected near the occipital nerve at the back of the head.
    • Vagal nerve stimulation. Low-voltage electrical currents stimulate the vagal nerve in the neck. This can reduce pain and the number of cluster headaches you have.
    • Deep nerve stimulation. Electrodes implanted in the brain emit low voltage currents to stimulate the occipital nerve. This can reduce pain and the number of cluster headaches you have.
Consultant with patient

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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