Discover how to get rid of the pain - cluster headaches
Headaches are commonplace and we all suffer from headaches from time to time. Some are due to tension or stress where it is thought that changes in brain chemicals are responsible or they may be caused by contraction in the neck and scalp muscles which results in a pain or dull ache in the head. Others appear when we have a cold and our sinuses are blocked, and some appear when we are dehydrated or are alcohol induced. There are ‘ice cream’ headaches brought on by eating cold foods too fast which are short lasting but painfully sharp all the same. There are headaches that can be caused by the very painkillers taken to stop them if taken too often; these are called ‘rebound’ headaches. Some people are unfortunate to experience migraine headaches which cause them to feel nauseous; they may become sensitive to light or sound and may even throw up. Some migraine sufferers have triggers which set them off, perhaps eating chocolate or drinking alcohol but many appear from nowhere and the only solution for many is to take prescribed medication and sleep it off.
The worst type of headaches which affects around 1 in a 1000 people are cluster headaches, of which 80% are thought to be male and predominately smokers. Cluster headaches are excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head, often behind the eye or at the temple. These are called cranial autonomic symptoms because they are involuntary and are not caused by any conscious effort or external reason. Sufferers often call them ‘suicidal headaches’ because of the severity of them and are often quoted as being the worst pain known to man. Others call them ‘ice-pick’ headaches because of the acute piercing pain experienced just like an ice-pick relentlessly hacking away at the skull.
A cluster headache is defined as a ‘primary’ headache as the headache is the condition itself as opposed to a ‘secondary’ headache which tends to be caused by external factors such as infection or accidents.
Cluster headache attacks
Cluster headaches are much more painful than migraines or any other type of headache. They normally appear very suddenly and unexpectedly and may appear regularly for several weeks or months before subsiding. A typical attack can last anywhere between 15 minutes and 3 hours and can occur at the same time of day or night. Some sufferers are awakened from sleep having gone to bed fine only to be abruptly awakened normally within the first hour by excruciating pain. Some may have frequent attacks several times a day, others can be often but sporadic with no rhyme or reason as to when the next attack is due. For many, there can be a period of pain free relief before the next cluster strikes but others may feel ‘twinges’ throughout the day which feels almost like a bruised feeling left by the previous attack.
Causes of cluster headaches
Little is known about the causes of these headaches but research suggests that during an attack, there appears to be a lot more activity happening in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus. Chemicals are released possibly causing the blood vessels to widen and increasing the blood flow to the brain. Other triggers for some sufferers are caused by alcohol consumption during an attack period although it does not affect them during headache free periods. Others appear to react to an extreme increase in temperature such as exercising in hot weather.
Cluster headaches can severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and during an attack the intensity of pain can make them rock or bang their heads or pace the room out of despair and frustration and feeling overwhelmed with helplessness. Over the counter remedies will not alleviate the pain and suffering and although some of the medications offered by specialists can help alleviate the pain by reducing the intensity or length of attack, like most pharmaceutical drugs, they can have side effects and vary in effectiveness from person to person.
Pain free hypnosis
A more natural and effective way of treating the severity and frequency of these debilitating headaches is through hypnosis. Getting the client to relax and use visualisation techniques can help eliminate the fear and dread of the next onset. By teaching the client self-hypnosis and getting them to imagine a pain control dial, the therapist can teach them how to turn the dial to decrease the sensation of pain and manage the situation more effectively. A hypnotic CD which can be listened to during an attack can help distract their attention away from the intensity of the pain and can be used whilst doing breathing exercises and visualising soothing images.
During episodes of cluster attacks, the sufferer can become very despondent and anxiety builds as they await the next attack. Their quality of sleep is affected either through exhaustion of recovering from an attack or by being awakened by one. Their quality of life is affected too as they feel so helpless knowing there is no known cure available. They get little sympathy from others who assume it’s only a head ‘ache’ and is no big deal and depression can set in if help is not sought. By equipping the sufferers with tools and techniques through hypnosis, they can take control of their life back, enabling them to deal with their pain more effectively. It has been clinically proven that hypnosis can have a positive effect on the pain network in the brain by lessening the sensation of pain. Some clients have reported that with the regular use of hypnosis the frequency and intensity of the attacks have lessened as they feel more positive in managing their pain.
Hypnosis to remove the pain should only be explored once it is safe to do so and with the consent of your Doctor.