Plymouth Neurology team campaign to raise awareness of cluster headaches

The Neurology team at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust are working hard to not only improve services for patients who suffer with chronic migraines, but also to raise awareness of cluster headaches.

On Sunday 4 November, the team hosted a conference in conjunction with OUCH UK, a registered charity that aims to aid the understanding of cluster headaches and offer guidance about the condition. This event was the first of its kind to be held in the South West.

Rebecca and Stuart “Most people have heard of a migraine, but they’re not aware of what a cluster headache is,” explains Becky Stuckey, Headache Specialist Nurse at Derriford Hospital. “Cluster headaches are extremely painful and debilitating, affecting 1 person in every 1,000.”

Patients experiencing cluster headaches find it hard to sit still and often bang their heads against the wall in desperation. Some describe it as feeling like a poker is going through their skull and want to gauge out their eyes. It can be extremely frightening and confusing, especially for family and friends to witness.

“We have developed a 48-hour responsive treatment to help patients who are experiencing cluster headaches,” explains Becky. “We also offer counselling and support to patients, their families and their loved ones. Attacks are often short-lived, but repeated, and so can really affect mental health.

“We’re proud to have developed our service to meet the needs of those we treat, but it’s also really important to raise awareness of the condition. We therefore approached OUCH UK to help organise this event, to educate everyone about what cluster headaches are and the services and treatments available, as well as to dispel some of the myths and stigma around them.”

Attendees at the event had the opportunity to meet people who suffer with cluster headaches and hear their stories, as well as to listen to top neurologists from across the UK who are currently researching cluster and other headache conditions.

Recently the Neurology team at Derriford Hospital were highly commended at the HSJ Value Awards for their work in developing and providing an acute consultant-led neurology service for patients across the South West. The clinic run by the team has helped thousands of patients and helped to reduce hospital admissions by treating patients quickly and efficiently.

Dr Stuart Weatherby, Consultant Neurologist and Service Lead, said: “Cluster headache is one of the most extreme forms of pain known to humankind.  I feel we are very fortunate to have such dedicated, motivated and hard-working staff here in Plymouth to care for people affected by this important condition.”

Earlier this year, Becky was presented a special Patient’s Choice Award as part of the Trust’s NHS70 Pride of Plymouth celebrations. Her nominator said: “I suffer with cluster headaches and Becky is the first professional I met who knew and understood the severity of the condition. I cannot thank Becky enough for all her help in making this chronic, debilitating lifelong condition more manageable.”

Becky adds: “It only takes one person to have a little knowledge to make a positive meaningful impact on a condition as terrible as a cluster headache. The more we share this knowledge, the more people will understand and the stigma can be broken. That’s when this condition will finally be recognised for what it is, and services like ours will be made available to everyone.”