Cluster headaches are consistently described as some of the most intense pain a person can experience. I have had a few episodes and that is certainly my experience. Strong pain medication is essential. The headaches for me were fairly typical of the commonly reported symptoms: indescribably intense pain focused around one eye that begins a certain time in the early morning, typically around 3:00 A.M. For me the pain would remain for hours, finally resolve, and then usually start again the following morning or the morning after. This would continue for two or three weeks in the spring, and only in the spring. Feeling the precursors for the headache was very distressing. It was essential to have narcotic pain medication avaible. The doctors I saw said the causes of cluster headaches were not understood and primarily prescribed pain medication that knocked me out.
I went for a few years without cluster headaches and then began to experience the precursor symptoms—waking at about 3:00 A.M. with a pain forming behind my left eye during the spring, with the pain increasing each night.
I checked the internet to see if there was any new information and found an informal article by a doctor who speculated that cluster headaches were sometimes caused by people sleeping with heavy winter blankets and becoming overheated when the weather warmed in the spring. The doctor presented this idea as a speculative hypothesis that was consistent with his experience with a few patients. It also exactly fit my situation.
I immediately removed the heavy blankets from my bed and started sleeping a little cool at night. The symptoms that were developing stopped and I have not had subsequent symptoms in about 10 years. I have mentioned my experience to a couple of doctors and suggested that they may want to consider it for patients with cluster headaches, but I could tell they dismissed the idea because it was not based on research in a medical journal.
This is one of several cases when my medical symptoms were actually due to lifestyle factors such as sleeping habits, diet, or lack of exercise. In general, the medical profession has not been helpful for me in these cases. The medical profession is slowly getting better in understanding lifestyle factors, but I still find that my own initiative in such cases proves more effective than the typical medical training of doctors.
[Version of 3/14/2013]
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