Grandmother’s ‘suicide headaches’ inspire drive to help others with debilitating condition

Ouch trustee Dorothy Chapman.
Ouch trustee Dorothy Chapman.

A grandmother is aiming to raise awareness of a debilitating condition that can wreck lives by pulling together experts in the first conference of its kind in the North East.

For more than 50 years Dorothy Chapman has been living with the fear that each day she wakes she could be hit with what is known as a cluster headache.

Dorothy Chapman.

Dorothy Chapman.

The attack can debilitate the sufferer, leaving them in extreme pain and reliant on oxygen and medication.

The 70-year-old from Central Avenue, Whitburn, was diagnosed with the condition in her 30s, but suffered her first attack at 19.

The condition is known more commonly as ‘suicide headaches’ as sufferers have been known to take their own lives because of the pain.

Mrs Chapman, a trustee of Ouch UK (Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headache) - a charity which supports those diagnosed with the condition - believes more needs to be done to raise awareness of cluster headaches, especially within the medical profession.

We have been made aware of people who have taken their own lives as they have been unable to cope with the pain,

Dorothy Chapman

In a bid to help raise awareness, the charity has pulled together a conference with guest speakers taking to the stage who are experts in the field of cluster headaches.

It is the first event of its kind to take place in the region.

She said: “There is very little known about cluster headaches and there is still a lot of people in the medical profession who don’t know about it or how to help someone who is having an episode.

“The charity hopes by having this conference it will attract medics and those in the health profession to come along and find out more about the condition.”

Ouch trustee Dorothy Chapman.

Ouch trustee Dorothy Chapman.

Mrs Chapman added: “I consider myself to be lucky as I’m an episodic sufferer, whereas there are people who suffer from it constantly.

“It is such a horrible condition and the pain is tremendous. We have been made aware of people who have taken their own lives as they have been unable to cope with the pain, which is why it is known as the suicide headache.

“Or, there are some who have ended up hitting their head against the wall due to the pain they are in.

“When I have an attack, the pain is really unbelievable and I’m left crying in pain. It does have a huge impact on your life.

“As a charity we are trying to support sufferers but also raise awareness.

“I have in the past, given a talk to those working in accident and emergency to find out what their protocol is for those coming to the hospital suffering from a cluster headache. Through our website and feedback we’ve received from sufferers who have gone to A&E departments, they have not received the correct treatment and haven’t been given oxygen to help.

“We are hoping by having this conference, it will help those in the medical profession to better understand those who have the condition.”

The conference, open to those in the medical profession, sufferers and their families, will take place on Sunday March 18, at 10am at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

For tickets and more information visit

What are cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches can last a few minutes or hours and can leave sufferers debilitated.

There are two types of the condition - episodic and chronic.

In episodic sufferers, the headaches occur over a period of weeks or months and then go away for a period of time. This is the most common form.

Chronic sufferers experience daily attacks of at least 12 months. Some chronic sufferers only have a pain free period for only a few weeks within that time.

The condition affects men more than women and can begin at any age.

According to figures by OUCH as few as 0.2% of the population suffer from cluster headaches.

For some the pain can be so severe, it has led to people to take their own lives.