Healthy Living

Apr 14, 2014 1:31 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY News

What is a cluster headache?

Imagine having a headache worse than a migraine. Cluster headaches come in cyclical patterns or "clusters." They are widely misunderstood, so researchers are calling for more funding to find ways to treat the condition. A young Arroyo Grande man is also joining the cause. Austin Jamerson recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with a group called "Cluster Busters." The group talked to senators and congressmen and congresswomen about these horrific headaches. Jamerson looks like your normal 20-year-old, but he suffers from a disease that makes him feel anything but normal when it hits. "I suffer from cluster headaches. I have since I was 7-years-old," he explained. A cluster headache, also known as a suicide headache, is an episodic or chronic disease that has been described like this: a hot poker pressed against your head, getting shot in the face, a paper cut behind your eye -- the list goes on. "I am stricken all of a sudden with a pain in my head randomly throughout the day and it can hit me time after time and it is said to be one of the worst pains known to man," said Jamerson. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cluster headaches are relatively uncommon affecting fewer than 1 in 1,000 adults. They can occur during the same season every year, or the same time each day. "A cluster headache is only on one side of the head. It's primarily around the eye, but the cheek can be involved and the temporal area can be involved," said Dr. Mary Steffy Amir, who is a neurologist in San Luis Obispo. "You would do anything to get away from the pain. You would do anything," said Jamerson. "People do commit suicide when they can't get pain control for this kind of headache," said Dr. Amir. Jamerson is not currently taking any prescription medications, but he doesn't go anywhere without an oxygen tank, which he said can provide relief when a cluster headache hits. "At a high flowing rate of oxygen, with a special mask, it could dramatically lower the attack of your headache and it could - it really helps," he said. He said the oxygen flow can reduce what would have been a three-hour attack to 15 minutes. "We need to spread awareness and the more people aware of this, the fewer sufferers there will be, and hopefully there will be a medication made one day for us," said Jamerson. The cause of cluster headache remains unknown, but some are turning to street drugs to treat the disease. Researchers at Harvard University looked at patients who used LSD or psilocybin, a chemical found in psychedelic mushrooms to treat their headaches. Most found the treatment effective in stopping the headaches and lengthening the remission periods between cycles. To see the study published in the journal Neurology, click here. There are some prescription drugs used to treat the disease too, some take migraine medications, while others use prednisone.  
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