What is Hemicrania Continua?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
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Hemicrania continua is a rare disorder in which a person experiences a constant mild or moderate headache on one side of his or her head. The condition is most commonly seen in females around the age of 30, though it can potentially arise in patients of either sex at any age. In addition to chronic pains, hemicrania continua can cause other symptoms such as runny nose, nausea, and sensitivity to bright light. A prescription drug called indomethacin can be effective in relieving symptoms in most patients when it is taken daily as directed by a physician.

It is unclear what causes hemicrania continua to develop. The condition does not appear to be related to a particular genetic disorder, environmental exposure, infection, or physical defect. Ongoing neurological research suggests that the problem may be due to chemical imbalances in the brain that affect nerve signaling functions.

The primary symptom of hemicrania continua is a unilateral, or one-sided, headache. Dull aches are always present, and patients may experience periodic episodes of increased pain. Debilitating throbbing sensations that last for about one minute occur daily in some people. Migraine-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity can come and go as well. In addition, many individuals suffer from frequent episodes of eye irritation, nasal congestion, and facial swelling on the same half of their heads as their constant pains.


There are no specific clinical tests to confirm hemicrania continua, but physicians can make confident diagnoses by considering patient histories and ruling out other possible causes. Patients may be diagnosed with the condition when they present with persistent unilateral head pain for more than three months and exhibit other key symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging and other types of brain scans are used to check for other potential problems, such as blood clots or physical abnormalities.

Almost all patients who are diagnosed with hemicrania continua respond well to indomethacin, an oral anti-inflammatory drug. Daily doses of 25 to 300 milligrams of indomethacin are usually able to provide full relief from symptoms. The drug can cause certain side effects, however, including stomach upset, indigestion, and acid reflux that may need to be controlled with additional medications. It is important for patients to follow their doctors' instructions exactly when taking indomethacin to ensure the best possible results. In many cases, it is possible to lower the daily dose or even stop taking the drug altogether after a few months at a doctor's discretion.



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