A new study suggests people who suffer from cluster headache experience increased memory issues, more disturbances of mood, and a poorer quality of life than people without the disorder, considered to be one of the most painful headache disorders.

Researchers led by Mariam Torkamani, BSc, at the Cognitive Motor Neuroscience Group at the University College of London, recently conducted a small study to learn more about the daily effects of cluster headache, which is studied less than migraine, but causes such intense pain some sufferers resort to suicide.

Researchers evaluated 33 individuals—11 with episodic cluster headache, 11 with chronic cluster headache, and 11 controls and found that while intelligence and executive functions, such as reasoning, problem solving and planning, are not negatively affected by the disorder, the problems that may accompany cluster headache are pronounced.

In the current study, patients with cluster headache performed worse on tests of working memory and reported more cognitive failures than the members of the control group. Regarding mental health, about one-third of those with episodic and chronic headache experienced depression, although 75% of those with chronic cluster headache reported anxiety compared to 38% of those with episodic cluster headache. Both groups with cluster headache also reported high levels of disability.

The authors noted that their research findings were similar to previous findings related to cluster headache. They concluded by stressing that regardless of the frequency of attacks, cluster headache greatly influences quality of life and general well-being. Additionally, they say health care professionals should be attentive to the mental health of their patients with cluster headache.

“The high levels of disability and mood disturbance in cluster headache warrants direct management of these problems in clinical practice. Antidepressant medication and/or psychotherapy to help patients come to terms with the disabling nature of their cluster headaches may both prove of value,” they wrote.

The article appeared in the journal Headache.