SUNCT Headache

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What is SUNCT Headache?

SUNCT-Short-lasting, Unilateral, Neuralgiform headache attacks with Conjunctival injection and Tearing-is a rare form of headache that is most common in men after age 50. The disorder is marked by bursts of moderate to severe burning, stabbing, or throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head and around the eye or temple. Attacks typically occur in daytime hours and last from 5 seconds to 4 minutes per episode. Patients generally have five to six attacks per hour.

Autonomic nervous system responses include watery eyes, reddish or bloodshot eyes caused by dilation of blood vessels (conjunctival injection), nasal congestion, runny nose, sweaty forehead, swelling of the eyelids, and increased pressure within the eye on the affected side of head. Systolic blood pressure may rise during the attacks. Movement of the neck may trigger these headaches. SUNCT may be a form of trigeminal neuralgia and is considered one of the trigeminal autonomic cephalgias, or TACs.

Is there any treatment?

These headaches are generally non-responsive to usual treatment for other short-lasting headaches. Corticosteroids and the anti-epileptic drugs gabapentin, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine may help relieve some symptoms in some patients. Studies have shown that injections of glycerol to block the facial nerves that carry pain may provide immediate relief, but the headaches recurred in about 40 percent of patients studied.

What is the prognosis?

There is no cure for these headaches. The disorder is not fatal but can cause considerable discomfort.

What research is being done?

The NINDS conducts a wide range of research on headache disorders. This research aims to discover ways to better diagnose, treat, and ultimately, prevent these disorders.

Click here to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.

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