BackgroundCluster headache (CH) is considered the most excruciating primary headache syndrome; although much less prevalent than migraine, it is not rare as it affects more than 1/1000 people. While its clinical presentation is considered stereotypic, atypical features are often encountered. Internationally, cluster headache is often misdiagnosed, undertreated and mistreated.
MethodsWe prospectively studied 302 CH patients, all examined by the same headache specialist. The aim of our study was to describe the demographic and clinical characteristics of CH patients in Greece and draw attention to under-management, under-treatment and mis-treatment often encountered in clinical practice; our purpose is to improve recognition and successful treatment of cluster patients by Greek neurologists and other physicians.
ResultsIn the present cohort, clinical characteristics of CH are similar to those described in other populations. Beyond the standard clinical characteristics, features like side shifts (12.6 %), location of maximal pain intensity outside the first trigeminal branch division (10.2 %), lack of autonomic features (7 %), presence of associated features of migraine and aggravation by physical activity (10 %) were encountered. Four out of five patients had consulted a physician prior to diagnosis. The median number of physicians seen prior to diagnosis was 3 and the median time to diagnosis was 5 years, though it improved for patients with recent onset. Chronic cluster headache, side shifts, pain location in the face or the back of the head and aggravation by physical activity were found, among others, to be statistically significantly related to delayed diagnosis or more physicians seen prior to diagnosis. Even properly diagnosed patients were often undertreated or mistreated.
ConclusionsCluster headache, in a large cohort of Greek patients, has the same phenotypic characteristics as described internationally. Uncommon clinical features do exist and physicians should be aware of those, since they may eventuate in diagnostic problems. Most CH patients in Greece remain misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for rather lengthy periods of time, but time to diagnosis has improved recently. Even after diagnosis, treatment received was suboptimal.