What are cluster headaches? Study finds they’re more severe among women

MINNEAPOLIS – Excruciating cluster headaches are more severe among women than men, according to a new study.

Scientists say the short but nasty bouts of pain, which people typically feel on one side of the head, are even worse in women — even though they are more common among men. They can occur for days, weeks, or even months in a row, and each one tends to last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.

Researchers in Sweden found females were more likely to be diagnosed with chronic cluster headaches, which can attack sufferers for more than a year without relief. They also found more than double the number of women than men receive a diagnosis for chronic cluster headaches – 18 percent compared to nine percent.

Attacks also lasted longer among women than men. For example, eight percent of women said their headache bouts lasted for between four and seven months compared with five percent of men. In contrast, 26 percent of women said the aches lasted less than a month compared to 30 percent of male patients.

Women were also more likely to report the attacks happening at various times of the day than men. In total, 74 percent of female patients said their cluster headaches happened at different times compared with 63 percent of men.

‘Cluster headache is still often misdiagnosed in women’

A family history of cluster headaches was found in 15 percent of women compared with seven percent of men. For the study, 874 people with the condition answered questionnaires about their symptoms, medications, headache triggers, and lifestyle habits.

Two-thirds of them (66%) were men while one-third (34%) were women.

“Cluster headache is still often misdiagnosed in women, perhaps because some aspects can be similar to migraine,” says study author Andrea Belin, PhD, of the Karolinska Institutet, in a media release. “It is important for physicians to be aware of how the disorder manifests differently in men and women so the most effective treatment can be given as fast as possible.”

“While the ratio of men to women with cluster headache has been shifting over the years, it is still considered mainly a disorder of men, making it more difficult for women with milder symptoms to be diagnosed with cluster headache than men,” Belin continues. “It’s possible this could contribute to the higher rate of chronic cluster headache in women.”

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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