Analysis: While cluster headaches might be more prevalent among men, new research has shown that women are more susceptible to the condition.
By Andrea Carmine Belin, Karolinska Institutet and Caroline Ran, Karolinska Institutet
Cluster headache is an extremely painful ailments that exist, and it’s a neurological disorder that has a prevalence of one in 1,000 people in the world. It is a condition that causes frequent attacks of severe pain on the opposite face, typically in the eye area. The attacks last from 15 minutes and three hours, and could occur multiple times throughout the day. They can also occur at night, and more frequently in spring and fall.
The root cause of the condition is still unknown and there’s currently no cure. The treatments that are available to treat cluster headache are specifically designed to treat other medical conditions, which means their effectiveness isn’t optimal and the treatment results may differ depending on the individual.
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Source: BBC News, report on research into cluster headaches.
Cluster headache was traditionally thought to be a problem for males because it’s believed as being between two and five times more prevalent in males. Two recent studies we’ve published reveal that although men could be somewhat more likely to experience cluster headaches, women tend to be the most affected by the condition.
Our most current research on cluster headaches, we looked at the effects of the condition on men and women. We interviewed 575 men and 299 females in total and requested them to complete the questionnaire that detailed their symptoms, the medication they used, their daily practices and triggers for headaches.
We observed that women suffering from cluster headaches were more affected in their everyday lives than males. They were two times more likely suffer from the severe, chronic form of the headache that affects about 18 percent of female participants. Chronic cluster headache is when they are able to endure three months of the year without symptoms. Women also reported more active headaches (in some cases , years of continuous headaches) in comparison to men.
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from Heads Up Ashley Hattle-Cleminshaw, and Dr. Lindsay Weitzel discuss Ashley’s life story about living suffering from Cluster Headache
Women reported more frequent attacks of headache at night and claimed that absence of sleep could be a factor that triggers attacks. Additionally, we observed that more female patients who suffered from cluster headaches said they slept less than 5 hours per night, compared to male participants.
The study also showed females were much more likely utilize prescription medications to manage the effects of headaches caused by cluster as compared to males. We also found that nearly 30% of the women in the study experienced migraine, in addition to cluster headaches, compared to around 13% of male participants.
In a separate study which we have published in the past in which we utilized population registers to collect data on health visits as well as absences from school or work because of health issues. This enabled us to determine the effects of cluster headaches compared with the rest of the population. We studied 329 individuals suffering from cluster headache. We assessed them against 16,200 who did not suffer from the condition.
Our study revealed that 94 percent of women with cluster headaches also had other health issues. By contrast, only 99% women with no cluster headaches had other health issues. But those suffering from cluster headaches are more likely be afflicted with physical injuries than other group. But, the study could not identify the specific kind of health issues or physical injuries they suffered.
Also, we discovered that people with cluster headaches who had various health conditions had a higher chance to be absent from work due to illness or to retire early due to disabilities. Cluster headache sufferers suffered twice as many sickness absence and quit earlier than those with cluster headache as well as those who didn’t suffer from cluster headache.
Based on the findings of both our research, it’s evident that we need to stop thinking of Cluster headaches as being solely a masculine condition and think about the unique effect it has on females. It’s crucial that gender differences in how cluster headache symptoms manifest are understood to ensure GPs are able to provide appropriate treatment for all patients suffering from cluster headache.
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The radio show on RTE Radio 1, GP Dr Maire Finn discusses the causes and remedies for headaches
While it is evident from our research what impact the cluster headache has on the quality of life of a person and health, it is important in the future to utilize various study techniques to guarantee more accuracy and determine if women and men respond to treatment differently. It’s also crucial to determine if certain diseases are more prevalent in those with cluster headache as compared to the general population.
A lot of patients suffering from cluster headaches are waiting up to ten years before receiving a correct diagnosis. They are then denied the ability to access any treatments or means to manage their illness. Due to the severe impact that cluster headaches can have on every aspect of a person’s daily life and health, as demonstrated by our studies, it is crucial to keep educating people about the condition to ensure patients can receive the assistance they require.
Andrea Carmine Belin is Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet and Caroline Ran, Researcher, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. This article was first released in The Conversation.
The opinions expressed here are the views that of the writer and do NOT represent or reflect the opinions of RTE
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