One of the most painful headaches known to occur is known as cluster headache. The most typical feature of this headache is that it presents in a cyclical fashion or in clusters.
In most cases, the headaches occur in clusters that may last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This pattern is quite variable in each individual but most individuals will have a set of cluster headaches in any give 12 month period. Fortunately, cluster headaches are rare. These headaches are more common in men and often start around the 2nd- 4th decade of life. It is very rare for children or women to develop cluster headaches. When the cluster headaches start, they usually do tend to persist for several decades. In some individuals the headaches do suddenly disappear in the 6-7th decade of life.
While the headaches are agonizingly painful, they are not a threat to life. Cluster headaches typically strike without any warning signs or symptoms. The headaches can occur all of a sudden at any given time. Within a few minutes, the headaches increase in intensity and become excruciating. The headaches typically being on one side of the head and always occur on that particular side for the rest of your life. In very rare cases, does the side of the cluster headache shift position. Most individuals affected with a cluster headache describe it as burning and intense in nature. Others describe it as a being struck in the head with a hot flaming rod.
Cluster headaches usually last anywhere from 2-10 weeks. During remission, one is fine; however, some unfortunate individual can develop chronic cluster headaches that may go on for 10-12 months. What is amazing is that the intensity, start time and duration of cluster headache is consistent during each attack. Some individuals develop cluster attacks seasonally; others get it during certain natural anniversaries (new moon, shortest day, seasonal rainfalls, etc). In any case, with time the cluster headaches generally tend to last longer, become less predictable and remain just as painful.
The headache which occurs during a cluster period may occur every day or even several times a day. The duration of headache may be a few minutes to several hours. The headaches do tend to occur at the same time each day but unlike other headaches, cluster headaches do occur more commonly at night. Research has shown that these headaches often occur during sleep when people start to dream. Most people wake up from deep sleep with a headache which is frightful in intensity. The headaches are agonizing and may indicate that something is seriously wrong. The pain usually subsides as suddenly as it started. After the attack, most individuals are exhausted but are pain free. In some unlucky individual this pain free period may only be several hours and in others it may be days.
Today, there are a variety of treatments that can help not only help reduce the pain but also diminish the duration of headaches. Further, those individuals who have many cluster attacks may be helped by taking prophylactic medications.
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