Cluster Headaches Are More Than ‘Just a Headache’. But They’re Often Misdiagnosed

Cluster headache is additional than just a headache. It is a extreme neurological ailment, often regarded as a “suicide headache” mainly because many individuals have suicidal ideas in the course of assaults.


The pain experienced in the course of a cluster headache attack is excruciating and is stated to be comparable to the pain of childbirth. Such assaults can previous from 15 minutes to three hrs and can come about quite a few occasions per day.

The pain is nearly normally on one side and common features of an attack may perhaps consist of bloodshot or teary eyes, droopy eyes and a runny nose or blocked nostrils.

All-around one in one,000 people practical experience cluster headache. It is really perceived as a scarce illness, but in truth is as popular as perfectly-regarded neurological conditions this sort of as numerous sclerosis or Parkinson’s illness. Obtaining the appropriate remedy for this ailment is tough, as our current review confirmed.

We located that many healthcare professionals do not know cluster headache or how to diagnose the ailment. This has serious repercussions for people struggling. Our investigate also displays individuals frequently facial area extensive delays and undertake unwanted procedures and referrals to specialist treatment right before receiving the correct diagnosis and remedy.

Our group examined the understandings and encounters of cluster headache and the influence of the ailment. GPs and neurologists who function in the north of England, have been interviewed by a clinical sociologist.


We explored their understanding all over the diagnosis and remedy of cluster headache, how they generally refer individuals to a specialist, and the means they converse with other clinicians.

Our primary acquiring is that cluster headache is neglected among wellness professionals. Numerous healthcare professionals do not know what a cluster headache is. This frequently potential customers to misdiagnosis of the ailment and enormous delays in receiving the correct diagnosis.

Some clinicians interviewed in the review have been not aware of cluster headache, even though many others imagined that cluster headache is the exact same as “cluster migraine”, which can lead to nausea and sensitivity to light-weight together with extreme head pain.

Our interviewees gave lots of examples of the repercussions a patient faces when they will not receive a well timed and correct diagnosis. Cluster headache is often misdiagnosed as migraine or trigeminal neuralgia (a extreme, sudden kind of facial area pain), but also as sinusitis or dental difficulties.

Individuals once in a while undertake unwanted procedures, this sort of as tooth extraction, sinus washouts and intracranial surgical procedures mainly because they are in despair.

The ailment has a enormous influence on sufferers’ every day daily life and they check out all kinds of treatment plans hoping to discover some aid from the excruciatingly painful assaults. In truth, cluster headache can have significant influence on a patient’s mental wellness and on their capability to continue being in work.

People today with cluster headache often put up with from extreme mental wellness conditions, this sort of as long-term melancholy, suicidal ideas and may perhaps self-hurt. Relatives, close friends and businesses often will not grasp the severity of the ailment and the massive influence it has.


Difficulties with remedy

Because of to the mother nature of the assaults, cluster headache is addressed in different ways in comparison to other headache conditions, like migraine or a stress-sort headache. These are generally addressed with painkillers – but if these come about frequently they will call for common preventive remedy. Cluster headache assaults are addressed with nasal sprays or injectable treatment (triptans) and inhalation of oxygen.

Our review also highlights tensions in between major and secondary treatment all over prescribing these treatment plans mainly because of the expense. Sometimes GPs will not comply with the remedy directions acquired from neurologists in secondary treatment. This is specifically the scenario if GPs assume the prompt treatment is not expense efficient.

For case in point, the injectable triptans have been often not prescribed mainly because of their large expense. Some GPs as a substitute prescribed more affordable oral triptans. But these are not efficient for cluster headache individuals. Numerous interviewed clinicians have been not aware of the prescription guidelines for oxygen, which is an result remedy for cluster headache.

GP contributors in our review almost never referred individuals with cluster headache signs to neurologists. When individuals get referred, it is additional most likely to present the patient with reassurance that their ailment is not daily life-threatening.

In some circumstances, individuals with cluster headache get referred to neurologists to begin specialised treatment plans for cluster headache, this sort of as the medicines verapamil and lithium.

Our review displays an urgent will need to improve recognition of cluster headache among wellness professionals and the standard public. This will stop misdiagnosis and delays in diagnosis.The Conversation

Lisa Dikomitis, Professor in Anthropology and Sociology of Wellbeing, Keele College Alina Buture, PhD researcher, Hull York Clinical University, College of Hull, and Fayyaz Ahmed, Professor of Medical Neurology, College of Hull.

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