Cluster headache is a severe, episodic headache that is often seasonal (especially around spring ). It is stabbing and often associated with a droopy eyelid, watery eye on the side of the headache as well as a blocked or runny nose, again on the same side as the headache.

Most patients described it as severe and usually 10/10, maximal in intensity. A recent study tried to answer the question of how bad is that in comparison to other very painful conditions. And it stayed at ten! It goes to show that it is a get important condition to diagnose and treat – there are good preventative medications, short and long term, as well as ones to relieve the headaches themselves, that need to be used (but are often delayed as it is not always diagnosed on time).

The Detail

In a recent article in the journal Headache, researchers asked patients with cluster headache in an online survey to rate the pain in comparison to others they had endured, as seen in the figure below.

In total, 3251 subjects consented to take part in the questionnaire, and 1604 met inclusion and exclusion criteria. For pain level, respondents were given a variety of painful conditions and asked if they’d experienced them; if so they were asked to rate the pain 0.0-10.0 on a numerical evaluation scale. Labor pain was asked only to women.

Cluster headache pain was rated as more intense than any other pain disease examined at 9.7, with the next most painful disorder, labor pain at 7.2, a whole 2.5 points less on a 0-10 scale. With severe pain being rated 7 and greater in the numerical rating scale, it’s intriguing to note that just cluster headache strikes (9.7), labor pain (7.2), and pancreatitis (7.0) were considered severe pain. Kidney stones, frequently considered extremely painful, was rated in the high end of moderate pain (6.9).

You can read more about headache on our headache page.