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Expert Column

Characteristics of People with Cluster Headache

People with cluster headache are more likely to have brown and blue eyes than hazel eyes. It might seem strange to identify a headache patient by his or her eye color, but people with cluster headache do appear to fit a certain profile.

Approximately 500,000 cluster patients live in the United States. In late 2008, a U.S. Cluster Headache Survey was sent to approximately 9,000 of these patients and included 187 questions about everything from clinical to economic issues related to cluster headache. The results were published in the January 2012 issue of the journal Headache.

Here’s what they learned about U.S. cluster patients:

  • 36% are between the ages of 21 and 30
  • 80% have headaches on a daily basis
  • 34% have brown eyes
  • 42% spent five years waiting for a correct diagnosis
  • 82% deny a family history of cluster headache
  • 52% noted alcohol as a trigger
  • 21% note an aura before a cluster attack
  • 73% have a current or prior history of tobacco use

With such a high number of cluster patients reporting they are smokers, the results suggest that smoking* is a risk factor for cluster headache.

Perhaps most concerning, of participants in the study, 55 percent have had suicidal thoughts, 17 percent have lost a full-time job as a result of cluster headaches and 11 percent noted they are homebound more than 30 days per year.

*Note: Smoking is a known contributor to headache, both for those smoking and those impacted by second-hand smoke. Nicotine, one of the compounds found in tobacco, has vascular properties that may contribute to headache.



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