People who suffer from ‘cluster headaches’ may be three times more likely to develop heart disease or mental disorders, a study suggests.
These excruciating headaches last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours and typically occur several days a week.
They affect about 1 in 1,000 people and can be a sign of dilated or inflamed blood vessels. People with this condition are more susceptible to mental and neurological disorders, as well as heart disease.
Evidence suggests that cluster headaches are associated with abnormalities in the region of the brain responsible for producing the “happy hormone” serotonin, the “sleep hormone” melatonin, and the “sleep hormone” cortisol. of stress”.
Of more than 3,200 Swedes suffering from cluster headaches, 92 percent were more vulnerable to nerve and musculoskeletal conditions characterized by persistent pain and mobility problems.
The study was conducted by Swedish scientists who recruited 3,240 people with cluster headaches ranging in age from 16 to 64.
They compared that group with 16,200 people who were similar in age, gender and other factors. Most of the subjects were men, who are more prone to cluster headaches.
Of those people with cluster headaches, 92 percent had an additional condition. The majority, 52 percent, had co-occurring conditions involving the nervous system compared with 15 percent of those without cluster headaches.
Conditions with the second-highest proportion of cluster headache patients involved the musculoskeletal system and caused long-lasting pain and mobility problems, compared with 24 percent in patients without headache.
Diseases affecting the blood, immune system, endocrine system, and metabolism, as well as pregnancy-related conditions, were very rare among both groups.
Dr. Caroline Ran, study author from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden said: ‘Our results show that people with cluster headaches are not only at increased risk of other illnesses, but those with at least one additional illness missed four times as many days of work due to illness and disability than those with headaches alone. head in clusters.’
The findings were published in the journal Neurology.
Less than 80 percent of people who do not experience cluster headaches had two or more additional medical conditions that primarily affected the nervous and musculoskeletal systems and caused persistent pain and limited mobility.
The headaches were severe enough to double absenteeism.
Those with cluster headaches missed an average of 63 days of work compared to those without cluster headaches with 34 days.
“It is very important to increase our understanding of the other conditions that affect people with cluster headache and how they affect their ability to work,” Dr. Ran added.
“This information can help us make decisions about treatment, prevention and prognosis.”
However, a notable caveat was the lack of personal information about the individuals, such as smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and body mass index.
The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but scientists have identified tobacco and alcohol use as potential sources.
A family history of cluster headaches can also make the condition worse.
Episodes usually last between five and 15 minutes, although if left untreated they can last up to 180 minutes. Seizure episodes are much longer.
An attack cycle typically lasts six to 12 weeks with remissions lasting up to a year. Many people experience one or two attack periods per year.
The most effective treatments for acute attacks include oxygen therapy and sumatriptan injections.
The high blood pressure medication Verapamil is useful for long-term prevention. An injectable drug has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cluster headaches are different from migraines, which cause crippling headaches, nausea, fainting, vomiting, and even paralysis.
Migraine sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year, usually in clusters or episodes lasting a few days.
They are the sixth most common cause of disability worldwide.
Like cluster headaches, migraines are strongly linked to depression and absenteeism from work.
What is a cluster headache?
Cluster headaches can be excruciatingly painful.
They are often recurrent, and consistent episode periods of 6 to 12 weeks are common.
Episodes can last from five to 15 minutes, though up to 180 minutes if left untreated.
The pain appears quickly and is mainly concentrated behind the eyes.
They can be caused by a number of factors including:
- Use of alcohol or smoking cigarettes
- switch to high altitude
- Bright light
- exercise or effort
- Heat, be it weather or a bath.
- Foods that contain nitrates, such as bacon or sausage
- cocaine use