What are Cluster Headaches?
- Cluster headaches are far less common than migraine headaches or tension headaches. Cluster headaches begin far more dramatically, however, and remain quite unique in their course over time.
- As the name suggests, the cluster headache exhibits a clustering of painful attacks over a period of many weeks. The pain of a cluster headache peaks in about 5 minutes and may last for an hour. Someone with a cluster headache may get several headaches a day for weeks at a time - perhaps months - usually interrupted by a pain-free period of variable length.
- In contrast to people with migraine headache, more men than women have cluster headache. Most people get their first cluster headache at age 25 years, although they may experience their first attacks any time from their teens to their early 50s.
- You can get 2 types of cluster headache:
- Episodic: This type is more common. You may have 2 or 3 headaches a day for about 2 months and not experience another headache for a year. The pattern then will repeat itself.
- Chronic: The chronic type behaves similarly but, unfortunately, you get no period of untreated sustained relief.
Cluster Headache Causes
No one knows exactly what causes cluster headaches. As with many other headache syndromes, theories abound, many of which center on your autonomic or "automatic" nervous system or your brain's hypothalamus. These systems play a role in rhythmic or cyclical functions in your body. The involvement of either system in the syndrome would account for the periodic nature of the headache.
- Many experts believe that cluster headache and migraine headache share a common cause that begins in the nerve that carries sensation from your head to your brain (trigeminal nerve) and ends with the blood vessels that surround your brain.
- Others believe that the pain arises in the deep vascular channels in your head (for example, the cavernous sinus) and does not involve the trigeminal system.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2016
Joseph Carcione Jr, DO, MBA
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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