Cluster Headache

Cluster headache is a type of severe, recurring pain that is located on one side of the head. It received its name from the clustering, or pattern, of frequent headaches that usually occur. There are two main types of cluster headaches: Either type of headache may switch to the other type.

  • Causes

    The cause of cluster headaches is not known. It is thought that there is abnormal activation of the area of the brain that is responsible for regulating temperature, blood pressure, hormone release, and sleep. The pain is thought to be caused by a combination of widening of the blood vessels and inflammation of the nerves of the face.

    Other
    possible causes include:

    • Alcohol use
    • Changes in barometric pressure
    • Changes in sleep pattern
    • Tobacco use
    • Medications, such as
      nitroglycerin

  • Definition

    Cluster headache is a type of severe, recurring pain that is located on one side of the head. It received its name from the clustering, or pattern, of frequent headaches that usually occur.

    There are two main types of cluster headaches:

    • Episodic cluster headaches—These occur one or more times daily for multiple weeks. The headaches then go away and come back months or years later.
    • Chronic cluster headaches—These occur almost daily with headache-free periods lasting less than one month.

    Either type of headache may switch to the other type.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and neurological exam will be done. A neurological exam may include examining:

    • Mental status
    • Cranial nerve functioning
    • Motor and sensory functioning
    • Reflexes
    • Coordination
    • Walking

    The doctor will ask about the frequency and pattern of your headaches. To help provide answers, you may consider keeping a diary of:

    • When your headaches started and ended
    • What you were doing at the time
    • What you tried to relieve the pain

    Pictures may be taken of your brain to rule out other disorders. This can be done with:

    • MRI scan
    • CT scan

  • Prevention

    Sometimes, cluster headaches can be prevented by doing the following:

    • Maintain a regular sleep routine.
    • Avoid smoking.
    • Avoid alcohol, narcotic analgesics, bright sunlight, and emotional stress.
    • Get moderate physical exercise.
    • Practice relaxation techniques.
    • Take your medication as directed.

  • Risk Factors

    Men aged 20-50 years are more likely to get cluster headaches. Factors that may increase your chance of getting cluster headaches include:

    • Prior head surgery or head injury
    • Family history of cluster headaches

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:


    • Stabbing, penetrating, burning, or explosive head pain that:

      • Begins suddenly
      • Is on one side of the head, but not both
      • Often starts around the eye and spreads to the same side of the head
      • Causes facial flushing
      • Can occur daily or almost every day for multiple weeks
      • Can occur 1-8 times per day
      • Lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
      • Often occurs at about the same time each day
      • May increase in intensity over time
      • May start within two hours of going to sleep
      • Can awaken you from sleep

      • Causes an aura—This can include visual disturbance, visual spots, or the inability to move one side of the body.
    • Restlessness and agitation
    • Nausea

    During the headache, other symptoms may occur on the affected side, including:

    • Stuffy or runny nose
    • Redness or watering of the eye on one side
    • Droopy eyelid
    • Constriction of the pupil of the eye
    • Facial swelling and flushing, sweating
    • Sensitivity to light and noise
    Symptoms of a Cluster Headache
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  • Treatment

    Treatment aims to reduce the frequency of headaches and help relieve pain.