Treatment guidelines for acute and preventive treatment of cluster headache

Ping Kun Chen*, Hsi Ming Chen, Wei Hung Chen, Yen Yu Chen, Jong Ling Fuh, Lian Hui Lee, Yi Chu Liao, Kao Chang Lin, Hung Pin Tseng, Jing Jane Tsai, Po Jen Wang, Shuu Jiun Wang, Chun Pai Yang, Chun Hing Yiu, Zin An Wu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The Treatment Guideline Subcommittee of the Taiwan Headache Society evaluated both the acute and the preventive treatments for cluster headache now being used in Taiwan, based on the principles of evidence- based medicine. We assessed the quality of clinical trials and levels of evidence, and referred to other treatment guidelines proposed by other countries. Throughout several panel discussions, we merged opinions from the subcommittee members and proposed a consensus on the major roles, recommended levels, clinical efficacy, adverse events and cautions of clinical practice regarding acute and preventive treatments of cluster headache. The majority of Taiwanese patients have episodic cluster headaches, because chronic clusters are very rare. Cluster headache is characterized by severe and excruciating pain which develops within a short time and is associated with ipsilateral autonomic symptoms. Therefore, emergency treatment for a cluster headache attack is extremely important. Within the group of acute medications currently available in Taiwan, the subcommittee determined that high-flow oxygen inhalation has the best evidence of effectiveness, followed by intranasal triptans. Both are recommended as first-line medical treatments for acute attacks. Oral triptans were determined to be second-line medications. For transitional prophylaxis, oral corticosteroids are recommended as the first-line medication, and ergotamine as the second-line choice. As for maintenance prophylaxis, verapamil has the best evidence and is recommended as the first-line medication. Lithium, melatonin, valproic acid, topiramate and gabapentin are suggested as the second-line preventive medications. Surgical interventions, including occipital nerve stimulation, deep brain stimulation, radiofrequency block of the sphenopalatine ganglion, percutaneous radiofrequency rhizotomy and trigeminal nerve section, are invasive and their long-term efficacy and adverse events are still not clear in Taiwanese patients; therefore, they are not recommended currently by the subcommittee. The transitional and maintenance prophylactic medications can be used together to attain treatment efficacy. Once the maintenance prophylaxis achieves efficacy, the transitional prophylactic medications can be tapered gradually. We suggest the corticosteroids be used within two weeks, if possible. The duration of maintenance treatment depends on the individual patient's clinical condition, and the medications can be tapered off when the cluster period is over.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-227
Number of pages15
JournalActa Neurologica Taiwanica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Cluster headache
  • Corticosteroid
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Preventive therapy
  • Triptans


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