Doctors are continually misdiagnosing cluster headaches

In Connecticut and across the U.S., around one in 1,000 people suffer from cluster headache, a neurological condition that affects one side of the head and causes excruciating pain. Patients may experience a cluster headache attack several times a day, and each attack can last between 15 minutes and three hours.

It is by no means a rare disease; it is, in fact, as common as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Yet unlike these two well-known neurological disorders, cluster headache is prone to misdiagnosis and delayed diagnoses because so many doctors are simply unaware of its existence.

Patients may be incorrectly diagnosed with migraines, for example, or a chronic pain condition affecting the face called trigeminal neuralgia. Others may be told they have dental problems and undergo unnecessary treatments like teeth extraction.

Even painkillers, which are used to treat most types of headaches, do not work against cluster headaches. What are most effective are injections of a drug called triptans and oxygen inhalation treatments. Yet many doctors will not prescribe these. They may prescribe triptans, but in an oral form, which is ineffective.

Timely diagnoses and treatments are important because cluster headache patients are known to develop mental health conditions. Cluster headaches are sometimes called “suicide headaches” because of the suicidal thoughts that patients have during an attack.

Under medical malpractice law, those who are incur financial loss because of a diagnostic error may be able to seek compensation if the error was clearly the result of doctor negligence. Proving negligence and connecting it to the injuries can be a complicated process, though, so victims may want some legal assistance. The lawyer may have third parties conduct an independent investigation of the matter before the claim is filed and negotiations for a settlement begin.