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Medicines for Cluster Headaches

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Medicines may stop a cluster headache after it starts and prevent more headaches from occurring. Finding the right medicine can take some time. You may need a combination of medicines to effectively treat your cluster headaches.

Medicines and treatments that stop cluster headaches after they start

Treatments most often used to stop cluster headaches include:

  • High-flow oxygen inhalation therapy, in which you breathe oxygen through a face mask to relieve headache pain. Oxygen therapy is one of the best treatments to stop a cluster headache. Oxygen therapy relieves headache pain within 15 minutes in more than 7 out of 10 people who use it. It works best when started right when a cluster headache starts.1 But you need to repeat the treatment when the next headache begins.
  • Triptans, which can be given as a shot, sprayed in the nose, or taken by mouth as a pill to reduce pressure and pain.
  • Octreotide, which can be used as a shot to stop headache pain.
  • Lidocaine, which is taken by nose drops to stop severe headache pain.
  • Ergotamine preparations, which can be given as a pill or in a vein to relieve pressure and reduce headache pain.

Medicines that prevent cluster headaches during a cluster period

Medicines that prevent cluster headaches during a cluster period include:

  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone. These medicines are used to stop cluster headaches for a short time. These medicines give you some relief from headaches while preventive medicines start to work. Corticosteroids are not used as preventive medicines long-term because of bad side effects.
  • Verapamil. This medicine is used to prevent or reduce the number of headaches in a cluster cycle. Verapamil is commonly used for preventing both occasional and chronic cluster headaches.
  • Lithium. This medicine is often prescribed to prevent chronic cluster headaches.
  • Antiseizure medicines, such as valproate. These may be tried if other treatments are not effective.
  • Ergotamine. This medicine can be used at bedtime to prevent cluster headaches overnight.

You must take these medicines every day during a cycle of headaches, even on days when you don't get a headache.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 22, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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