Natural Course of Cluster Headache: a retrospective cohort study with long-term follow-up

Authors:  Mi Ji Lee, Hyun Ah Choi, Jong Hwa Shin, Hea Ree Park, Chin-Sang Chung
Source:  Cephalalgia, 14 April 2017


To determine the natural course of cluster headache.

We screened patients with cluster headache who were diagnosed at Samsung Medical Center and lost to follow-up for ≥5 years. Eligible patients were interviewed by phone about the longitudinal changes in headache characteristics and disease course. Remission was defined as symptom-free 1) for longer than twice the longest between-bout period and 2) for ≥5 years.

Forty-two patients lost to follow-up for mean 7.5 (range, 5.0–15.7) years were included. The length of the last bout did not differ from the first one, while the last between-bout period was longer than the first one (p = 0.012). Characteristics of cluster headache decreased over time: Side-locked unilaterality (from 92.9% to 78.9%), seasonal and circadian rhythmicity (from 63.9% to 60.9% and from 62.2 to 40.5%, respectively), and autonomic symptoms (from 95.2% to 75.0%). Remission occurred in 14 (33.3%) patients at a mean age of 42.3 (range, 27–65) years, which was not different from the age of last bouts in active patients (p = 0.623). There was a trend for more seasonal and circadian predilection at baseline in the active group (p = 0.056 and 0.063, respectively) and fewer lifetime bouts and shorter disease duration in patients in remission (p = 0.063 and 0.090).

This study first shows the natural courses of cluster headache. Features of cluster headache become less prominent over time. Remission occurred regardless of age. Although no single predictor of remission was found, our data suggest that remission of cluster headache might not be a consequence of more advanced age, longer duration of disease, or accumulation of lifetime bouts.

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