, Volume 1, Issue 5, pp 441-449

Cluster headache

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Opinion statement

The care of patients with cluster headache has at least two goals: 1) immediately abolishing an ongoing attack and 2) stopping or shortening a bout (a cluster period). The fierceness and the relative brevity of the attacks dictate the use of a fast-acting agent. There are probably three agents fulfilling these criteria: sumatriptan (by subcutaneous injection), oxygen (inhaled through a face mask), and ergotamines (by injection or, perhaps, sublingual tablets). An abundance of data from controlled studies as well as recent clinical experience probably favors sumatriptan as the most effective alternative, the most significant drawback being its high cost. Oxygen inhalation is free of side effects and may be effective but is inconvenient to use. Ergotamines in tablet form act less rapidly, and there are more contraindications to their use. In short-term prophylaxis, however, ergotamine may still be a drug of choice if the timing of the attacks allows planned use of the drug shortly before the attack. If the timing is more irregular, steroids may at least temporaril ybreak a cycle (eg, prednisolone, 60 or 80 mg/d, gradually tapered to zero in 3 to 4 weeks). If more long-lasting prophylaxis is needed or expected, lithium carbonate ,900 mg/d, or verapamil, 360 mg/d, both have reasonable response rates. As for chronic cluster headache, lithium probably will still be the drug of choice. For a very limited group of patients with chronic cluster headache, surgery may be a last resort. The best surgical options are probably radiofrequency rhizotomy o microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve.