Cluster headache: A prospective clinical study with diagnostic implications


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Abstract

Abstract—BackgroundCluster headache, when compared with migraine or tension-type headache, is an uncommon form of primary neurovascular headache. However, with a prevalence of approximately 0.1% and a lengthy history of disabling and distressing episodic pain, cluster headache is an important neurologic problem.MethodsPatients (n = 230) were recruited from our specialist clinic (24%) or from support groups (76%). All patients had a detailed history taken by at least two physicians and were assigned diagnoses according to the International Headache Society Diagnostic Guidelines.ResultsThe pain characteristics were of a strictly unilateral, predominantly retro-orbital (92%) and temporal pain (70%). Of the cranial autonomic features, lacrimation (91%) was the most common. Nausea (50%), photophobia (56%), and phonophobia (43%) often were noted, as was a sense of agitation or restlessness in 93% of patients. Typical migrainous aura was noted in 14% of this cohort. Most patients (79%) had episodic cluster headache, which was largely the same clinically as chronic cluster headache except for the persistence of attacks over time. The overall male-to-female ratio in this sample was 2.5:1, and this has decreased with time. Neither oral contraceptive use, menses, menopause, nor hormone replacement therapy had any consistent effect on cluster headache in women. Less than half of the patients had tried injectable sumatriptan, and many had not tried high-flow oxygen. Several unproven preventative agents that usually are used in migraine and an array of alternative therapies had been used; none of the latter was consistently effective.ConclusionPatients with cluster headache offer a population of primary headache patients with devastating acute attacks of pain. The syndrome is stereotyped with effective evidence-based treatments that are prescribed in only half of patients having cluster headache.

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