Millions of people suffer from severe headaches. Most claim to have a migraine when in fact they may be having a cluster headache, simply because they may never have heard of a cluster headache or they may believe them to be the same thing, but they are definitely not the same thing and they require completely different treatments.
What’s the difference between a cluster headache and a migraine?
In many cases, a migraine gives a warning of its onset with changes in the person’s vision. They may see an ‘aura’ or some type of visual disturbance such as zigzag lines, flashing lights or even a temporary loss of vision. Migraines are often accompanied by sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting. They may last anywhere from 2 to 72 hours.
In most cases, cluster headaches usually come on suddenly without any warning. They are felt on one side of the head and are generally accompanied by a runny nose and watery eyes, especially the eye on the side of the headache. Sometimes, cluster headaches are confused or diagnosed as sinus headaches. Cluster headaches can last as little as 2 hours or as long as several months, also leading to being confused with sinus headaches.
While women tend to have more migraine headaches and men tend to have more cluster headaches, they do occur in both sexes and both can be somewhat debilitating to the woman or man suffering from them. Hormonal shifts have been linked to many migraines, which is why they tend to occur in more women than men. No one really knows what triggers cluster headaches, although some believe that alcohol could play a role, hence why they occur in more men than women.
The treatments differ somewhat between migraines and cluster headaches. Migraines are usually treated with a strong class of drugs known as ‘triptans’ and an anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), both of which are usually taken orally. Cluster headaches are generally treated with injectable triptans and a high-flow of oxygen. Additionally:
“…prevention medications should be taken daily to stave off migraines. These include beta blockers (propranolol or timolol), anti-seizure drugs (topirmate), and some types of antidepressants. Cluster headache prevention may include daily doses of verapamil (a calcium channel blocker) with or without a short course of steroids.”
However, if you do suffer from cluster headaches, you may be interested to know that the FDA just approved a new device to treat them. According to a recent report:
“The device is a vagus nerve stimulator and it’s not entirely clear how it works. The idea is to disrupt signals that run along the vagus nerve, a giant nerve that runs from the brain all the way to the colon. It’s involved in many bodily responses.”
“A study in the journal Headache last September showed the treatment appeared to help just over a quarter of cluster headache patients who tried it, versus about 15 percent of those given a sham treatment. This went up to about a third of patients with so-called episodic cluster headaches.”
“A company called electroCore makes the device, called gammaCore.”
“‘GammaCore transmits a mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve through the skin, resulting in a reduction of pain,’ the company said in a statement.”
Therefore, if you are one of those people who suffer from cluster headaches, you may want to talk to your doctor about the gammaCore device, especially if you don’t like taking all of the drugs or if you have adverse reactions to any of those drugs. This newly approved device may be your salvation.