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Pain disorder named ‘suicide headache’Aching for relief

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Waking up in the middle of the night, eye swollen, extreme discomfort in the temples intensifying, a sudden onset of pain down the back of the neck, around the ears, a possible runny nose. Some describe this scenario as unbearable; others inflict more pain on themselves to make it stop.

Banging their heads against wooden floorboards, or even squeezing their temples so hard, in hopes of crushing their skull, and maybe the pain will stop.

“It feels like something is on fire behind my eye, like a flaming red-hot poker is sticking me,” said sufferer of 12 years Bill Mingus.

Constantly misdiagnosed as severe sinus problems, a cluster headache is a disorder in the neurological system. Though the pain of a cluster headache is severe, with the intensity of the headache at its peak within five minutes, it occurs only on one side of the head, and can typically last 30 minutes to an hour. The pain that comes along with cluster headache is compared to being worse than natural childbirth; “the worst pain a human can have and not die from it,” said Mingus.

While affecting less than one in 1,000 people, cluster headaches are also nicknamed “suicide headaches.” The term cluster refers to the frequency of the headaches. Often occurring regularly, cluster headaches usually come at the same time everyday, sometimes multiple times a day.

As defined by the International Headache Society, a cluster headache can either be episodic, meaning the headaches come in cycles from one week to a year, or chronic cluster headache, which occurs for years without interruption. Cluster headache more commonly affects people ages 10-30; and the rare condition is more apparent in men than in women.

Cluster headache isn’t understood to be a condition that is hereditary, meaning that the trait is not passed on from generation to generation, but scientists do believe that multiple people in one family may acquire the disorder.

Although the cause of cluster headache is unknown by scientists, there are a few things that are believed to trigger an attack: alcohol, cigarette smoke, bright light or sunlight, foods high in nitrites, such as bacon or preserved meats, exertion or even some blood pressure medications. Researchers also believe that cluster headache may be linked to the body’s sudden release of serotonin or histamine, which regulates mood, appetite, muscle contraction and sleep.

Furthermore, tests can be performed on an individual who feels as though he or she exhibits the signs of cluster headache. A magnetic resonance image screening, or an MRI, may be done to rule out other neurological possibilities. Doctors may suggest keeping a headache diary to assist with the diagnosis of cluster headache. Some sufferers have resulted to injections of steroids to try to stop the attack within five minutes, while other sufferers may require surgery on nerve cells to try to provide some sort of relief of cluster headache.

There is no cure for cluster headache. Those who are suffering this ailment have created a Web site for victims to share their stories at http://www.clusterheadaches.com/

For more information email Daren Johnson, Web site creator and sufferer, at deej@clusterheadaches.com or call Bill Mingus, sufferer, at (336) 817-6620.

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