Now let’s take a look at cluster headaches and new daily persistent headaches. Although relatively rare by comparison, they are nevertheless considered primary headaches.

Cluster Headaches (CH):

Cluster headaches are unilateral, vascular headaches of short duration that occur over a period of time. The pain is usually centered behind one eye (although it can also be felt in the temple, ear, neck or face) and is often described as an intense, burning, or piercing (not throbbing) pain. Cluster headaches have a sudden onset and can be extremely painful, often leading to watery eyes, a runny nose, and reddening of the skin on the affected side of the face. They can last anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours and reoccur 2-3 times a day for a period of 5-6 weeks (cluster). Attacks can occur at the same time, every day and are very common at night leaving you feeling restless. A person may have a pain-free period of weeks, months, or even years in some cases, before the next cluster occurs.

Causes:

There are no known causes for cluster headaches, but research has speculated that they may be due to a sudden release of histamine and serotonin in the brain. Abnormalities have also been detected in the hypothalamus during a cluster headache. Some perpetuating factors may include stress, overwork, and emotional trauma. In some cases medical intervention may be necessary as a means of managing the pain and stress of these reoccurring headaches.

Incidence:

Although cluster headaches are relatively rare, affecting 1 in 1000 people, they are most prevalent in men ages 20-50. They affect men more than women at a ratio of 8:1

New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH):

Another form of primary headache worth mentioning is the “new daily persistent headache” or NDPH for short. Although relatively rare, occurring in 1 out of every 3500 people between the ages of 30-44, it is considered a primary headache syndrome with no underlying cause. NDPHs are classified as a form of chronic daily headache which is present for more than 15 days a month and for as least 3 consecutive months. It has an acute onset and typically occurs in people with no past history of headaches. The pain can be a dull, pressure-like sensation that affects both sides of the head but can also be unilateral in its presentation — being localized to one particular area of the head. The pain can fluctuate in intensity but is usually unremittant and daily.

NDPHs can be mistaken for other forms of chronic daily headaches (CDH) such as, chronic migraines (CM) and chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH) and can share similar symptoms. There are however a few key features that set them apart. Onset is usually abrupt and acute. People who suffer from CMs and CTTHs have a history of headaches and can often tell when a headache is about to come on, NDPH sufferers cannot. NDPH sufferers however can tell you the exact day their headache started. This is a signature sign of NDPHs. The pain begins acutely and reaches its peak within 3 days. The pain is not usually aggravated by routine physical activity,  although it can get worse throughout the day.

Diagnosis of NDPHs can be difficult and must first rule out secondary causes which could mimic its symptoms. Such secondary causes may include a cerebrospinal fluid leak, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or minor head trauma. An MRI or CAT scan can rule out these conditions.

Causes:

As previously mentioned, NDPHs have no underlying cause but have been known to coincide with viral infections (i.e. Epstein-Barr, Lyme Disease, Herpes Simplex), flu-like illnesses, sinusitis, stressful life events, or minor head traumas, just to name a few. They have also been associated with medication over-use, which often leads to an analgesic rebound and a resultant headache. NDPH sufferers are particularly vulnerable to medication over-use as they try to manage the pain of their daily headaches.

Incidence:

NDPHs occur 2.5 more times in women than they do in men.

Conclusion:

Conventional treatments such as over the counter medications (OTC) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may include: aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen (Aleve). These are most commonly prescribed for tension-type headaches and some mild forms of migraine. Triptans and Ergots have been prescribed for those with severe, chronic forms of migraine. They constrict blood vessels and block pain pathways in the brain, but are not without their precautions and side effects. Most migraine sufferers learn to avoid triggers, such as stress, scents, loud noise, bright lights and certain foods that might set off a migraine. Cluster headaches are often treated with vasoconstrictors, oxygen inhalers and corticosteroids. NDPH sufferers have had successful treatments with Neurontin (gabapentin) and Topomax (topiramate) in cases that have lasted more than a few months.

Although these treatments may provide symptom relief and in some cases may be essential in managing the pain of a severe headache, caution should be used when using any drug or medication over a long period of time. Medication overuse headaches (MOH), commonly referred to as rebound headaches, can be a byproduct of an over-reliance on pain medication. The liver and kidneys are particularly susceptible to the effects of medication overuse. If you suffer from chronic headaches of any form, you may be well advised to consult your doctor. Keeping a ‘headache journal’ may be helpful in detecting patterns or triggers. Eliminating certain stressors, foods, or activities may go a long way in preventing your next headache.

 In the third post of this series, we’ll begin to discuss the benefits of an holistic approach to headache relief — namely massage and trigger point therapy.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.