What is a SUNCT headache?
SUNCT (also known as Short-lasting, Unilateral, Neuralgiform headache attacks with Conjunctival injection and Tearing) is a rare form of headache that is marked by bursts of moderate to severe burning, piercing, or throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head and around the eye or temple. The pain usually peaks within seconds of onset and may follow a pattern of increasing and decreasing intensity.
Attacks typically occur in daytime hours and last from five seconds to four minutes per episode. Individuals generally have five to six attacks per hour. The disorder is most common in men after age 50.
Autonomic nervous system responses (those that happen involuntarily) include:
- Watery eyes
- Reddish or bloodshot eyes caused by dilation of blood vessels (conjunctival injection)
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sweaty forehead
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Increased pressure within the eye on the affected side of head
Systolic blood pressure (pressure on the artery walls when the heart beats) may rise during the attacks. Moving the neck may trigger these headaches. SUNCT may be a form of trigeminal neuralgia and is considered one of the trigeminal autonomic cephalgias (TACs).
SUNCT headaches generally do not respond to usual treatment for other short-lasting headaches. Anticonvulsants may relieve some of the symptoms, while anesthetics and corticosteroid drugs can treat some of the severe pain felt during these headaches. Surgery and glycerol injections to block nerve signaling along the trigeminal nerve have poor outcomes and provide only temporary relief in severe cases.
Doctors are beginning to use deep brain stimulation (involving a surgically implanted battery-powered electrode that emits pulses of energy to surrounding brain tissue) to reduce the frequency of attacks in severely affected individuals.
There is no cure for SUNCT headaches. They are not fatal but can cause considerable discomfort.
How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with SUNCT headache?
SUNCT headache is considered rare, which often means there is not much information known about it. This is usually the case because doctors and researchers do not see many people with SUNCT, which makes it hard to learn from them through observations or large studies.
Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about SUNCT and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.
All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.
For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with SUNCT and other types of headaches at Clinicaltrials.gov.
Where can I find more information about SUNCT headache?
Information may be available from the following resources:
American Headache Society
National Headache Foundation
Phone: 312-274-2650 or 888-643-5552