Home > Case Studies > Living With Cluster Headaches: A Case Study

Living With Cluster Headaches: A Case Study

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 20 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Cluster Headaches Verapamil Ergotamine

“Cluster headaches are a sort of plague from hell; I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. When I am in the middle of an attack, I just crawl around on the floor crying, using every foul word and phrase I can think of and asking to die.” These impassioned statements seem at odds with Geoff, a 51-year old history teacher who is quietly spoken and dressed immaculately.

Geoff had his first attack of cluster headaches shortly after his 30th birthday, which is the classic age that this disorder begins. He was woken from sleep at about 2am with an intense, constant pain around his left eye and temple. “My eye was watering very profusely and leapt up in panic because I thought I had been hit by an intruder and I was bleeding. There was no blood and no intruder – my eye was just watering, which has turned out to be a usual feature of every attack since,” he remembers

The headache became unbearable, reducing Geoff to a weeping, crawling wreck, literally beating his head on the floor to make the pain go away. Then, after about an hour, the pain went. After being in bed another 3 hours, the attack repeated itself and he had another at 9am, leaving Geoff a quivering jelly, unable to go to school. “I made an appointment with my doctor as I thought I had a brain tumour at least.”

Geoff was told to take a couple of days off to rest and relax as the headaches could be caused by tension and stress, and to come back if they got worse. “I came home reassured and started to forget about the previous night -–but what I thought was an isolated event came back to haunt me three or four times every night for the next 7 weeks.”

A Cluster Headache Attack

Geoff was diagnosed as having cluster headaches. After 7 weeks, the attacks stopped as suddenly as they started but the headache specialist he had seen had warned Geoff that they were likely to return. There is a documented case of someone with cluster headaches going 25 years between attacks, but it is more usually a year or two.

In Geoff’s case it was 9 months. “At first, when the headaches stopped I was afraid to go to sleep in case I woke up in pain again. The first attack of the night always came around 2am, which I now know is fairly typical. Apparently, one of the triggers is the onset of rapid eye movement sleep, which occurs about 2-3 hours after going to sleep,” explained Geoff.

Geoff’s wife, Helen also began to dread night coming, as she felt completely helpless to do anything to help. “Night after night he would wake up about 2am and start groaning. Usually he went downstairs – luckily we have a converted cellar that we used as an office and he goes there so as not to wake our three children. They would be really distressed if they saw their dad rolling around on the floor, crying and moaning and beating his head on the floor,” Helen told HeadacheExpert.

“When a headache is in progress, I also swear and curse – and I never do that in the rest of my life. I just want it to end so much, the pain is utterly overwhelming,” said Geoff.

Treatment Options

Cluster headaches are very difficult to treat. They do not respond to medication in the same way as migraines and seem to be completely different in origin, although both types of headache are vascular. Patients who experience cluster headaches have tender spots in the carotid artery in the neck and spasms in the artery may be one of the causes of the pain.

“I have taken ergotamine to stop attacks and a daily dose of this seems to prevent attacks when I am in a ‘headache attack’ time. I have also obtained an oxygen cylinder and mask designed for people with cluster headaches as breathing in 100% oxygen for a few minutes usually ends an attack, particularly at night,” reported Geoff. However, for the last few years, Geoff’s doctor has prescribed intravenous sumatriptan, which both Geoff and Helen have been taught to administer at home.

“Sumatriptan aborts an attack within about 5 minutes, which is bliss. I also take Verapamil, which is usually diagnosed for heart problems. Nobody really understands how it works but taking a daily dose extends the time between attack phases. I have been clear of cluster headaches for three years now, but I am wary every time I lay down to sleep. You just never know when a fresh attack will strike.”

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopfully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Mumof3
    Re: Headache With Pins and Needles: Is This Serious?
    I have pins and needles beneath my feet, it has been there for three days now- and hasn't gone away.…
    25 March 2017
  • Ms. Haider
    Re: Headaches and Eyesight
    I wear soft contact lenses in the day time and take them out only when I'm ready to sleep. Even then if the contacts are out and I close…
    12 March 2017
  • Stassie
    Re: Migraine Classification
    My daughter has been diagnosed with migraine as she has most of the symptoms, so her neurologist said it was a classic one; He prescribed…
    10 March 2017
  • Alexandra
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I had hit ny head on a table and got a headache and it was getting worse so i went home, in the car i had passes out and my mom…
    10 March 2017
  • Alleycat
    Re: Headaches During The Night
    I have started walking with a headache about an hour after falling asleep.This happens at night or if I am sleeping during the day.…
    10 March 2017
  • Jad
    Re: Headaches and Iron Deficiency
    For the last year I've been getting shooting pains up and down the left side of my head which was diagnosed as trigeminal…
    8 March 2017
  • Stassie
    Re: Headaches Caused by Tensions and Stress
    Hi, My daughter, 16, has been diagnosed with having tension headaches, (via CAT scan and MRI) when she was 11. Since…
    7 March 2017
  • DUNK
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I have suffered severe eye, scalp, jaw pain for 5 years. The pain has been so bad I have thought about suicide more than once. The…
    6 March 2017
  • "common-cold antenna
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I've had this pain on my scalp in approximately the same area for a long time ( about 26yrs ). It happens just before I get a bout…
    26 February 2017
  • Julie
    Re: What is the Headache Impact Test?
    I wake up with severe headaches in the middle of the night. What do i do to stop it
    12 February 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the HeadacheExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.