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Corticosteroids for Cluster Headaches

Topic Overview

Corticosteroids (such as prednisone or dexamethasone) are referred to as "transitional" medicines for the treatment of cluster headaches, because they are sometimes used to break a cycle of cluster headaches. They are paired with medicines that stop (abortive) or prevent (prophylactic) additional headaches during a headache cycle. Often, within 2 to 4 days after starting treatment with corticosteroids, you will become headache-free. By the time the corticosteroids are stopped—their use is often tapered within 6 to 8 weeks of starting and then discontinued—the medicines used to prevent cluster headaches, such as verapamil, have taken effect.

Corticosteroids are not used over a long period of time because they can cause serious side effects, including:

  • Weight gain.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High blood sugar levels.
  • Cataracts.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Stomach ulcers.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Current as of March 12, 2014

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