Phenotypic and treatment outcome data on SUNCT and SUNA, including a randomised placebo-controlled trial

Cephalalgia. 2018 Aug;38(9):1554-1563. doi: 10.1177/0333102417739304. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Background Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT) and short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with cranial autonomic symptoms (SUNA) are two rare headache syndromes classified broadly as Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias (TACs). Methods Here, 65 SUNCT (37 males) and 37 SUNA (18 males) patients were studied to describe their clinical manifestations and responses to treatment. Results Pain was almost always unilateral and side-locked. There were three types of attack: Single stabs, stab groups, and a saw-tooth pattern, with some patients experiencing a mixture of two types. As to cranial autonomic symptoms, SUNA patients mainly had lacrimation (41%) and ptosis (40%). Most cases of the two syndromes had attack triggers, and the most common triggers were touching, chewing, or eating for SUNCT, and chewing/eating and touching for SUNA. More than half of each group had a personal or family history of migraine that resulted in more likely photophobia, phonophobia and persistent pain between attacks. For short-term prevention, both syndromes were highly responsive to intravenous lidocaine by infusion; for long-term prevention, lamotrigine and topiramate were effective for SUNCT, and lamotrigine and gabapentin were efficacious in preventing SUNA attacks. A randomized placebo-controlled cross-over trial of topiramate in SUNCT using an N-of-1 design demonstrated it to be an effective treatment in line with clinical experience. Conclusions SUNCT and SUNA are rare primary headache disorders that are distinct and very often tractable to medical therapy.

Keywords: SUNA; SUNCT; cranial autonomic symptoms; gabapentin; lamotrigine; lidocaine; topiramate; trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia; triggers.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Anticonvulsants / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gabapentin / administration & dosage
  • Headache / diagnostic imaging
  • Headache / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lamotrigine / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype*
  • SUNCT Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • SUNCT Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Topiramate / administration & dosage
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Topiramate
  • Gabapentin
  • Lamotrigine