Managing Cluster Headaches
Management of cluster headaches focuses on:
- Acute therapy for stopping an attack while it is happening
- Preventive therapy for stopping or reducing attack recurrences
The most effective and best-studied treatments for a cluster attack are:
- Oxygen inhalation.
- Triptan drugs. Usually an injection of the triptan drug sumatriptan (Imitrex), which is FDA-approved for cluster headache treatment. Intranasal formulations of sumatriptan or zolmitriptan (Zomig) are alternatives.
Relief can occur in 5 - 10 minutes. Oxygen and sumatriptan injection are sometimes given together.
Other drugs that may be used for acute attacks are nasal sprays of dihydroergotamine or lidocaine.
Cluster headache attacks are usually short, lasting from 15 - 180 minutes, and the excruciating pain may have subsided by the time a patient reaches a doctor’s office or emergency room.
Review Date: 09/29/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.