Cluster Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment - AlQudrahMC

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Cluster Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cluster Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

by Zahra Ijaz · February 15, 2022

Do you know that Cluster headaches often occur in cyclical patterns or cluster periods?

Moreover, cluster headaches often occur suddenly and fells like a continuous and intense pain rather than stabbing or throbbing pain.

It is important to get treatment as it can cause pain from 15 minutes to several hours and can make your tired.

Keep on reading.


Cluster Headaches: Types and Causes

Cluster headaches often occur on one side of the head, around, or on one side of your eye.
Bouts of frequent attacks or cluster periods can last from weeks to months, which are followed by periods by remission periods when the headache stops.
During remission, no headaches occur for months and years in some cases.
Keep on reading.

cluster headaches 1

One of the important things to note is that the frequency of headaches during such cycles can range from one headache every other day to several headaches per pay.

Moreover, pain from cluster headaches can be extremely severe and intense.

These types are most common between adolescence and middle age, however, they can appear at any age.

Some studies indicate that cluster headaches are more common in men than women.

Over time, however, that gap has reduced and is found in only twice as many men than women.

Types of Cluster Headaches

There are two types of Cluster Headaches. These are:

  • Episodic
  • Chronic

Episodic cluster headaches occur regularly between one week and one year followed by a headache-free period of one month or more.

However, chronic cluster headaches occur regularly for longer than one year, followed by a headache-free period that often lasts less than one month.

A cluster period often lasts from 6 to 12 weeks and starts at the same time each month especially during springtime or fall.

Moreover, it may consist of the following:

Daily occurrences with symptoms appear several times each day, one attack lasting from 15 minutes to 3 hours, attacks that occur around the same time each day, or attacks that are more likely to occur at night.

Causes of Cluster Headaches

The cause of cluster headaches is due to the dilation or widening of the blood vessels that supply blood to your brain and face.

This dilation often applies pressure to the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for transmitting sensations from the face to the brain.

However, what causes is dilation is unknown.

Research suggests that during an attack, there is more activity in the hypothalamus.

cluster headaches causes

It is the area of your brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst.

Moreover, cluster headaches may also occur by a sudden release of the chemicals histamine, which fights allergens, or serotonin, which regulates mood.

Some other theories relate to inflammatory factors and neurotransmitters.

Unfortunately, this is rare and it is also difficult to find a larger sample size for studies.

Some researchers are of the view, that these headaches may be due to a genetic link relating to the cause of the condition.

Furthermore, some triggers of episodes of cluster headaches can be alcohol, a sudden rise in temperature, or exercising in hot weather.

There is also a link between cluster headaches and smoking, irregular sleep-wake cycles, and allergies.

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What makes Cluster Headaches different from Other Types of Headaches

Cluster headaches often start suddenly, and a small percentage of people experience aura-like visual disturbances.

These include flashes of light before the headache begins.

In most cases, headaches begin a few hours after you fall asleep and are often painful enough to wake you, however, they may also begin when you are awake.

Headache pain becomes severe 5 to 10 minutes after it starts.

Each headache often lasts for several hours with the most intense pain lasting between 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Moreover, cluster headache pain often occurs on one side of the head, however, can switch sides in some cases.

It is generally located behind or around the eye and people often describe it as a constant and deep burning or piercing pain.

They may also experience this pain like a hot poker being stuck into your eye.

Furthermore, the pain from cluster headaches may also spread to the forehead, temples, teeth, nose, or shoulder, on the same side it occurs.

Other signs and symptoms that may be evident on the painful side of the head are:

A droopy eyelid, a constricted pupil, excessive tearing from your eye, and eye redness.

Moreover, sensitivity to light, swelling under or around one or both eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, facial redness or flushing, nausea, agitation, or restlessness are symptoms.


Cluster Headaches: Symptoms and Risk Factors

As there are different causes of cluster headaches, the symptoms often tend to paper without a warning sign.

Moreover, what makes them different from other types of headaches is that the pain is continuous rather than throbbing.

Keep on reading.

cluster headaches 3

Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Symptoms of cluster headaches often include intense pain that usually starts rapidly and without any warning.

Moreover, this pain is continuous, not throbbing, and can also cause a stabbing, sharp, or burning sensation.

The pain often starts around the eye and can also radiate to other parts of your head including your face, neck, and shoulders.

Pain may also be present on the temple or a cheek and remains on one side of your head.


There may also be the following:

  • redness, swelling, or watering in the eye on the side pain occurs
  • pale skin
  • stuffy, blocked, or runny nose on the same side where pain occurs
  • restlessness
  • facial swelling
  • small pupil size
  • drooping eyelids on the same side as the pain

This pain can wake you up during the night and it can occur at the same time each night.

Moreover, each cluster can last from 15 minutes to a number of hours, however, not usually more than 1 hour.

After the attack, the pain will subside, however, you may feel tired.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for cluster headaches are:

  • it occurs in men more than in women
  • age of a person is older than 30
  • drinking alcohol
  • prior to the experience of brain surgery or trauma
  • family history of cluster headed or migraine headaches

Moreover, if you have regular headaches, then you should visit your doctor for treatment or medical advice.

These treatments can help to relieve symptoms, and it may also be important to rule out any other underlying cause.

Vagus nerve stimulation may also be effective.

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Cluster headaches vs. Migraines

One of the important things to note is that cluster headaches and migraine are both severe types of headaches, however, they are different and need specific treatments.

Before a migraine headache, you will typically experience an “aura” or visual disturbances.

These often include flashing lights or zigzag lines.

Moreover, migraine often lasts for up to 72 hours and commonly involves nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.

On the other hand, a cluster headache starts and ends suddenly n lasts for a short period of time.

It can feature congestion, watery eyes, and a runny nose.

Furthermore, it normally affects only one side of your head and the eye that is watering is on the same side as well.

You have a migraine, then you may want to lie down during the attack.

However, in case of cluster headaches, you may find lying down to worsen the pain.


Treatment Options and Prevention

In order to get treatment for cluster headaches, your doctor will often ask you about the symptoms and also give physical and neurological exams.
Moreover, this may also include an MRI to CT scan of your brain to make sure there are no other causes of your headache, which may be a brain tumor.
Let’s discuss the treatment options as follows:

cluster headaches 2

Treating Options

Treatment often involves relieving and preventing your headache symptoms using medications.

However, in rare cases, pain relief medication and preventive treatment do not work, and you may need surgery.

Moreover, there is no cure for cluster headaches, but different drugs and therapies can help reduce the incidence and severity of attacks.

Fast Acting Treatments According to a study, the following can help treat cluster headaches:

Inhaling 100% Oxygen Breathing in oxygen through a mask at 7 to 10 liters per minute can help to reduce the symptoms within 15 minutes.

However, it is not always practical to have an oxygen cylinder and regulator close to you, but small units are available.

Oxygen therapy can only help to postpone the symptoms, rather than alleviate them.


Injectable Sumatriptan Triptans are a class of drugs that helps to treat migraine.

Sumatriptan can help to treat both migraines and cluster headaches.

Moreover, the adult dose is about 6 milligrams or mg an injection.

However, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, then you should avoid using this drug.

Dihydroergotamine This is an effective pain reliever for some people.

With the help of a medical professional, you will receive an intravenous dose, however, you can also inhale this medication.

The inhaler form, however, is effective but slower acting.

Octreotide or Sandostatin These are synthetic versions of somatostatin, which is a brain hormone.

It is an effective treatment for cluster headaches and is also safe if you have hypertension or heart disease.

Local Anesthesia Nasal Drops Lidocaine or Xylocaine is effective treatment for such headaches.

Surgery YOu may need surgery in case drug treatment does not work.

The surgery can involve cutting a part of the trigeminal nerve that serves the area behind and around the eye.

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Future treatments and Preventive Treatments

Let’s discuss them as follows:

Possible Future Treatments Some new treatments under investigation are:

Occipital Nerve Stimulation: Involves implanting a small device near your occipital nerves and it sends impulses via electrodes

brain stimulation

Deep Brain Stimulation: This involves planting a stimulator in your hypothalamus to change the electrical impulses in the brain.

Preventive Treatment If you have cluster headaches, then you can use short and long-term medications.

When each period of a cluster is over, the short-term medications stop, while the long-term ones may continue.

Let’s discuss these medications as follows:

Short-Term Drugs for Cluster Headaches

You can usually take short-term medications until one of the long-term medications start working.

These are as follows:

Corticosteroids These steroids can help to suppress inflammation.

Moreover, they are fast-acting, preventive drugs that can also help with new symptoms or if you have long periods of remission and short cluster periods.

Anesthetic on the Occipital Nerve Injecting an anesthetic can help to numb this nerve, which is present at the back of your head.

As a result, pain messages that travel along the nerve
the pathway is blocked.

Ergotamine or Ergomar This medication temporarily narrows blood vessels throughout your body.

You can take this medication at night before going to bed, however, make sure to not mix them with triptans.

Moreover, you should also avoid using this drug over long periods of time, or if you have poor circulation.

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Long-Term Drugs for Cluster Headaches

You may take long-term drugs throughout the cluster period.

These are:

Calcium Channel Blockers You can take these drugs during the cluster period and then gradually reduce the dose.

Though in some cases, you may need to use them for the long term.

Side effects of these medications are constipation, tiredness, and swollen ankles. Regular heart monitoring is also necessary if you are taking high doses.

Lithium Carbonate This one is a treatment for bipolar disorder that is also effective to prevent chronic cluster headaches.


Side effects include an increase in urination, diarrhea, and tremor. Moreover, your doctor will need to check your blood regularly to diagnose possible kidney damage.

Anti-Seizure Medications These drugs offer effective long-term treatment for cluster headaches.

It is important to note not inappropriate discarded drugs can harm you and your environment.

Therefore, it is important to make sure that dispose of any unwanted medication safely.

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Natural Remedies for Cluster Headaches

As the cause of cluster headaches remains unclear, there are no proven lifestyle measures for preventing them.

Identifying and avoiding triggers for cluster headaches, however, can help to reduce their frequency or severity.


Possible triggers are:

  • some medications like inhaled nitroglycerin
  • exercising in hot weather
  • sudden rise in body temperature
  • Smoking
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • alcohol

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Final Outlook

Cluster headaches are painful headaches that often occur several times a day and episodes come in cycles and may also occur around the same time each year.

The symptoms of this type of headache include sharp, stabbing pain on one side of your head and can also cause restlessness, nasal congestion, and place skin.

Currently, there is no cure for cluster headaches, however, you can take a combination of both short-term and long-term medications to reduce their frequency and severity of episodes.

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