PainRelief.com Interview with:
Mark J. Burish, MD, PhD.
Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery
Director, Will Erwin Headache Research Center
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston
PainRelief.com: What is the background for this study? Would you describe cluster headaches?
Response: Cluster headache is a disease associated with excruciating attacks of one-sided pain around the eye – patients regularly say it is more painful than childbirth, kidney stones, or gunshot wounds. The attacks last between 15 minutes and 3 hours and can occur up to 8 times per day. During an attack, patients will often have changes around the eye (such as a watery or bloodshot or droopy eye) changes in the nose (like congestion and a runny nose), and a restless feeling like they can’t sit still. It is called “cluster” headache because, for most patient, the headaches occur every day for several weeks then go away for the rest of the year, only to come back the following year. This is called “episodic” cluster headache, though there is another version called “chronic” cluster headache in which the headaches occur at least 9 months a year.
Cluster headache is found in about 1 in 1000 patients. Because it is uncommon, there have not been a lot of large international studies investigating basic questions like the age that these headaches start and the differences from patient to patient. There is a great need to understand more about this disorder at every level. So two researchers from the University of West Georgia (Larry Schor and Stuart Pearson) performed a large epidemiology study on cluster headache because very few have been done. They created an online questionnaire and advertised it internationally. They ended up obtaining the largest study in terms of participants and the most international study ever performed (at least to our knowledge). They then asked for help analyzing it from several physicians (including myself) and statisticians. I felt very fortunate that they reached out to me and I really enjoyed working on this project because I think it gives us a lot of insights into cluster headache.Continue reading