Cluster Headaches Increase Chances of Multiple Diseases

While rare, cluster headaches should seek attention after a new study shows those with the disease are more likely to develop multiple chronic conditions.

Key takeaways:
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    Swedish study finds patients with cluster headaches are more likely to have multiple chronic diseases.
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    Individuals suffering from multimorbidity are increasing despite highs in life expectancy.
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    Cluster headaches feature different symptoms versus migraines along with other forms of headaches.

Research from Sweden found that cluster headaches lead to higher rates of multiple chronic diseases.

The register-based study included 3,240 patients with cluster headaches living in Sweeden between the ages of 16 through 64 years and 16,200 matched references. Details were published on December 14, 2022, in Neurology.

Statistics were gathered from Sweden's Longitudinal Integration Database for Health Insurance and Labor Market Studies and The National Board of Health and Welfare. The data showed patients with cluster headaches had 91.9% rates of multimorbidity versus the matched references containing 77.7%.

Although not a dramatic difference, the spread was larger involving diagnoses related to nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Also, patients with cluster headaches had more days of increased discomfort than references in the study.

What is multimorbidity?

Having multiple chronic disorders is a multimorbidity. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that those with multimorbidity are at a higher risk for numerous reasons. They include increased side effects due to multiple medicines, vulnerability to their surroundings because of different age-related diseases, and specific care that can cater to their needs.

The WHO also points out that despite increases in life expectancy, multimorbidity has become more common due to increased cases of long-term conditions including diabetes, mental health conditions, and HIV/AIDS.

More individuals under the age of 65 struggle with multimorbidity, usually featuring various physical and health conditions while those over 55 mostly dealt with multiple health conditions. Two of the top five conditions featured depression and pain.

Methods to improve those’s daily lives with multimorbidity are dependent on the health care system. The WHO mentions good relationships and frequent visits to primary care providers can be beneficial. For many, costs come into effect, diffusing the idea of getting another check-up because of low-income status and perhaps high health care costs.

What are cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches are unique, they produce severe pain and commonly occur the same way every time. The pain lasts one to three hours, ranging from every other day to a few times throughout the day.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, research has not solved the reasoning behind cluster headaches. However, some lifestyle decisions or other factors can contribute to cluster headaches.

Possible causes of cluster headaches:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Change in altitude
  • Bright light
  • Overexertion
  • Food products with nitrates

Pain generally happens around or behind the eye, peaking in most cases by 15 minutes after initial onset. Symptoms may include nasal congestion, eyelid issues, forehead sweating, and frustration.

Therapies for cluster headaches can vary, featuring a high-dose oxygen therapy via a 15-20 minute face mask, or Nasal spray (sumatriptan) which constricts the brain’s blood vessels. After one of these two treatments, several medications including verapamil, prednisone, or lithium carbonate are used to prevent future cluster headaches. It is vital to seek care and this two-pronged approach if you sense symptoms are continuing to worsen.

Other forms of headaches

Migraines often occur at puberty but affect those between the ages of 35 and 45 years. Unlike cluster headaches, migraines affect one side of the head with a thumping feel that can last for two to three hours. They can occur weekly or once a year.

Tension-type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder that features tightness around the head that can translate into the neck. Both migraines and tension headaches are more common in women, while cluster headaches affect more males. Tension-type headaches usually last for a few hours but can linger on for days.

Medication-overuse headache is caused by the constant use of medication to cure a headache. It is the most common secondary headache disorder, with symptoms occurring at their peak in most cases in the morning. Medication-overuse headaches affect more men than women.

Headaches are a global problem, yet many don’t seek attention as symptoms persist. It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms of any form of headaches continue to persist. The WHO estimates only 40% of those suffering from migraines, and 10% from Tension-type headaches seek medical attention.

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