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Diagnosis of Migraine & Headache Types

migraine or cluster headache?

  • By soph27

    Hi all
    THis is my 6th day of my headache(not the whole day but feels heavy in the back and side of my head)–weighty, throbbing pain on one side of my head, deepens when i exercise and occasional body chills. Is this a cluster headache or migraine? Also should I see a neurologist or general doctor? best,soph

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  • By Kerrie Smyres Moderator

    Your description sounds like migraine, but you’ll have to check with a doctor for a diagnosis. Cluster headaches usually last only 15 minutes to a couple hours. They can come on multiple times in a day, but usually remit before starting again.

    I recommend seeing a headache specialist. General neurologists often only have minimal training in headache and migraine. Here are a few resources to help you find one in your area: https://migraine.com/blog/looking-for-a-migraine-specialist/

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  • By Tammy Rome

    I have been diagnosed with both Migraine and Cluster Headache. For years, I could not tell the difference between the two until the Cluster Headache became very strong. Kerrie is correct that a true Cluster attack ranges from 15 minutes to 3 hours. However, the attacks can follow each other one right after another so that you end up suffering all day. On the other hand, patients often report migraine-level pain in the same area that is affected by a Cluster Headache that can drone on non-stop for days. It is referred to by patients as a “shadow”. Experts have yet to explain this phenomenon and do not consider it part of a true Cluster attack. The two most effective treatments for acute Cluster Headache are Sumatriptan injections and 100% pure oxygen delivered by non-rebreather mask at 10-15 lpm for 10-20 minutes. Oral medications just don’t work fast enough. The pain is often described as sharp, boring, burning. It is a side-locked pain concentrated in and around one eye. The affected eye will release burning tears and the nose will either run profusely (more common) or be congested. The eye is red and droops visibly. Patients experiencing a cluster attack cannot sit still. Pacing, rocking, hair pulling, head banging all reduce the sensation of pain.

    Having experienced severe and chronic Migraines and Cluster Headaches, I can confidently say that the worst migraine pain is typically a 6 or 7 while the pain of a cluster is never below a 9 and is often a 10. Childbirth without pain meds was easier.

    Please see a headache specialist to get an accurate diagnosis. It’s really the only way to start getting effective treatment. It can make the difference between daily suffering and living life to the fullest.

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