SUMMARY: I find the drug trimetazidine 20 mg to 40 mg in a single dose an effective treatment for my recurrent headaches (which are probably cluster-type headaches).
Every few weeks I get a dull headache, which comes with a noticeable increase in tension in my neck muscles (especially the neck and shoulder part of the trapezius muscle), and tension in the eye sockets. This headache is located more on the left side of my head than the right.
When I have these headaches, if I engage any mild exertion which raises heart rate, I can feel the headache pain in my head and eye sockets pulse or throb to the rhythm of the heartbeat.
I don't find anti-inflammatories such as aspirin help much with this headache. My headache normally lasts for around 3 days before dispersing on its own. Fortunately the pain levels are not that high.
I am not sure if my headache would be classed as a tension headache, or a cluster headache. I would probably guess a cluster headache, because cluster headaches are recurrent, located on one side of the head, and affect the eyes, like my headaches.
The differences between headache types are described here:
Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headache. They can be caused by a tightening of the muscles of the neck and scalp. This muscle constriction may be triggered by physical or environmental factors, including stiffness or pain in the shoulder and neck muscles as a result of stress or poor posture.
Tension headaches can:
- result in mild-to-moderate pain and feel like a tight band of pressure around the head
- be felt equally on both sides of the head, and are normally short lived
- be uncomfortable and annoying. However, they are generally not severe enough to prevent daily activities such as walking.
Cluster headaches are the least common type of headaches, but arguably the most intense, and men are more likely to suffer from them than women. The “cluster” in cluster headaches refers not to the location of the head pain, but rather to the grouping of the attacks over time. This is the main difference between cluster headaches and tension or migraine headaches – cluster headaches regularly recur over a certain period of time.
Cluster headaches can:
- bring intense pain, which is usually described as excruciating and localised to one eye
- affect one side of the head, around and behind the eye, then worsen and may last from 15 minutes to three hours
- include symptoms such as eye swelling, tearing and redness and blocked or runny nose only on the side of the head that is affected.
Migraines differ from tension headaches in that the pain is usually restricted to one side of the head and may be described as throbbing, moderate or severe. Many migraine sufferers may become temporarily sensitive to light and noise, and may also experience nausea and vomiting.
Migraine headaches can:
Fortunately, identifying and managing these triggers can substantially reduce the number of migraines.
- last from a few hours to a few days and attacks can be reoccurring
- be more common in women than men
- be caused by various triggers and vary from person to person.
I actually used to get this headache before I developed ME/CFS, though I think it got worse and more frequent after I was hit with ME/CFS.
Anyway, about 8 years ago, by complete serendipitously, I found taking a single tablet of the drug trimetazidine (Vastarel) at a dose of 20 mg to 40 mg would clear this headache within 12 hours. And in fact if I take a trimetazidine tablet at the first signs that my headache is about to appear (usually an increase in neck and eye tension indicates it's coming on), then I can entirely prevent the headache from manifesting.
I originally tried trimetazidine after coming across a patent for its use as a fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and Gulf War Illness treatment. This drug unfortunately did not help my ME/CFS, but I noticed how it would nicely dissipate my headaches. So ever since then, I have been using this drug regularly as a headache treatment. I only take it when the headache comes on.
Whether trimetazidine will work for other people's headaches, or will work for migraine headaches, I am not sure.
Trimetazidine is a generally a pretty benign drug with a high safety and tolerability profile, according to Wikipedia. It's also an antioxidant, and protective of cells (cytoprotective). Trimetazidine is normally used to treat angina.
(This drug has been linked to reversible parkinsonism, which disappears after the drug is stopped. But I doubt this is anything to worry about if, like me, you are only taking 1 tablet of trimetazidine once every two weeks or so.)
Trimetazidine also modulates energy metabolism in a way that may be beneficial in ME/CFS: in ischemic heart muscle, trimetazidine increases the activity of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) by 37%:
In hearts subjected to low-flow ischemia, trimetazidine resulted in a 210% increase in glucose oxidation rates. In both aerobic and ischemic hearts, glycolytic rates were unaltered by trimetazidine. The effects of trimetazidine on glucose oxidation were accompanied by a 37% increase in the active form of pyruvate dehydrogenase, the rate-limiting enzyme for glucose oxidation.
I am not sure if trimetazidine increases pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) in tissues other than the heart muscle, or if it increases PDH in the absence of ischemia (low oxygen).
The only two other treatments I found effective for my recurrent dull headaches were the supplement carnosine 1000 mg (which interestingly enough also stimulates PDH), and basil essential oil 10 drops taken internally or applied transdermally.
These two supplements are quite good, but not as good as trimetazidine. I sometimes take carnosine with trimetazidine for a synergistic effect if the headache is worse than normal.