Cluster headaches are mainly of two types Chronic cluster headaches and Episodic cluster headaches. Cluster Headache usually occurs in pattern .
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1. Home Headache What is Cluster Headache? Types, Symptoms, Causes and Prevention
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Prevention. Triggers & Treatment
Cluster headache is considered as one of the very severe painful headaches that occur in
clusters. Patients suffering from the cluster headache experience the cycles of cluster
headache. Once the cluster cycle is over patient has headache-free period for some time.
The frequency of cluster headache varies from patient to patient. For example, some
patients experience the one episode of headache every day to several episodes per day.
The pain caused by the cluster headache is unbearable sometime and can be extremely
severe in some cases.
Cluster headaches are very common during 10 to 19 years of age, but some patients have
experienced the cluster headache episodes in middle age too. Although, cluster headache
can occur at any age there is no limitation or evidence to occur in specific age.
Past Research and studies have concluded that cluster headaches are more commonly
reported by men compared to women. Researches published in Cephalagia abstract the
evidence that cluster headache cases were reported six times more by men compared to
women. Later years, this gap has shrunken and now a day’s cluster headache is reported
only twice by men compared to women.
What are the types of Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches are broadly divided in two categories namely: – Chronic and Episodic.
Chronic cluster headaches have longer duration and occur regularly for more than one
year, resulting in severe pain and repeated headache episodes. The headache free period is
very less that lasts for less than one month.
Episodic cluster headaches have shorter span and occurs regularly between one week and
one year. The headache free period is more compared to chronic cluster headache and
results headache feee period for a month or more.
Patient who has Chronic cluster headaches may develop episodic cluster headache after
some time, and vice -versa cases are also possible.
How to differentiate Cluster Headaches from Other
Patients suffering from the cluster headache experience the sudden episodes of
headaches. Few patients experience the visual disturbance, dizziness, weakness etc.
before the headache episodes begins.
Cluster headaches are most experienced once the person fall asleep and headache episode
are strong enough to wake you up in between. Cluster headache can also shortly once you
are awake leading to severe pain and dizziness.
Severity of cluster headache pain becomes very high after 5-10 minutes once the headache
episodes start. Cluster headache lasts for few hours and most severe pain last between 15
minutes to 3 hours.
Usually, cluster headache pain starts on one side of head, but not limited to one side. In
some cases, cluster headache can switch sides and mostly experienced behind or around
the eyes. Patients suffering from cluster headache reports the severity of pain very high it
can be compared to deep burn pain, piercing pain. The pain is constant in nature and feels
like someone has stab the knife into your eye. Sometime pain may spread in near body
parts of same side or vice versa like forehead, shoulder, neck, nose, teeth, or temples.
Other Symptoms of the cluster headache include evidence of
b. Pinpoint pupil
c. Excessive Tear Secretion
d. Light Sensitivity
e. Swelling under the eye, getting eye redness, eye discomfort on the affected side.
g. Skin Flushing: – sometimes face of the patient flush with red color.
h. Inner tension or restlessness
i. Constantly running nose
j. Inability to lie still due to high severity of pain.
k. Forehead or Facial sweating
l. Congestion in nostril on affected side.
m. Occurrence of pain on opposite side when a new episode of cluster headache begins.
The severity of cluster headache episodes pain is at least 10/10 in severity.
Causes of Cluster Headache
The exact root cause of cluster headache is unknown till date but dilation, or widening, of
the blood vessels which in turn supply the blood to your brain and face are one of the
causes of cluster headache.
Substances which contribute to swelling of blood vessel can result in acute attack during a
headache series period. Substances like Nitroglycerin, Histamine Excessive smoking, or
Alcohol consumption results in increase in severity of headache episodes as the patient
blood vessels seem to change gradually and become easily influenced to the action of
However patient blood vessels do not become sensitive to these substances once the
headache episode is over, or we can say during headache-free period. Hormonal changes
in women can be eliminated as a factor in cluster headache episodes.
In some patients, it was reported that headache episodes were long and continuous and
were not separated by any period of remission. Nearly 20% of cluster headache episodes
are chronic in nature and headache episodes are repeated throughout the year which
makes difficult to control them.
The chronic cluster headache pains differ from episodic cluster headache as the frequency
is continuous, and cluster therapy do not make any impact to patients.
Cluster headache is not associated with the food habits, hormonal changes, stress, tension
etc. However, consumption of alcohol may trigger a splitting headache quickly in the
patient suffering from cluster headache.
Risk factor for Cluster Headache
Risk factor for cluster headaches includes but are not limited to below: –
a. Gender: – As studies and research have shown, men are more vulnerable to cluster
b. Age: – Most people experience the cluster headaches between adolescence and middle
age. However, cluster headache episodes can occur in any age.
c. Smoking: – Many patients who have reported the cluster headache are smokers.
However, there is no evidence if you quit smoking the headache episodes will stop.
d. Alcohol Abuse: – Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cluster headache episodes
attack in patients.
e. Genetic History: – If any of your family member who suffered from the cluster it
increases your risk to have the cluster headache.
f. Hypothalamus Abnormalities: – Area of brain which regulates the temperature of body,
blood pressure, sleep pattern and hormones release can be a cause for cluster
Treatment of Cluster Headache
When the patient sees the Doctor for cluster headache diagnosis and treatment. Doctor will
ask you several questions related to symptoms to rule out Type of Headache. Doctor may
need to conduct some neurological and physical examination which includes but are not
limited to MRI, CT scan etc. These examination helps to rule out the possibility such as
brain tumor etc.
Once the cluster headache is identified in patient, One should start prophylactic therapy as
soon as possible. Prophylactic Therapy helps in reducing the severity of headaches and
decrease the length of cluster headache episodes.
Commonly used medicines are corticosteroids, verapamil or antiepileptic drugs. These
medicines are slowly tapered off and then discontinued once the patient headache
decreases and disappear.
Patients suffering from chronic cluster headache episodes are treated with lithium or
calcium channel brokers. Histamine desensitization and surgical intervention may be
required for the patients who do not get relief from standard therapy.
Treatment of cluster headache mainly focus on getting patient relieved and decreasing the
headache episodes till they disappear. Breathing pure Oxygen using facial mask when the
headache episodes begin helps in relieving symptoms.
Medications for Treating Cluster Headache
Propranolol: – Blood Pressure lowering agent
Verapamil: – For Blood vessels relaxation
Prednisone: – For reducing nerve inflammation
Ergotamine: – Prevent dilating blood vessels
Topiramate (Topamax): –
Sumatriptan: – It is available in tablet, nasal spray, and injectable form.
When to opt for Surgery for Cluster Headache Treatment?
Surgery for treating cluster headache should be considered as a last resort for patient. The
surgery is used to disable Trigeminal nerve. Surgery treatment can treat the patients with
permanent relief from cluster headache, however there are many side-affects and risk are
associated with it such as facial numbness etc.
Top 10 Tips to Prevent Cluster Headache
To prevent Cluster Headache, one need to avoid below things: –
Avoid consumption of alcohol
Stop Smoking or Tobacco consumption in any form
Traveling to high altitudes places
Hot weathers or hot bath
Avoid consuming food which are rich in nitrates such as preserved meat, hot dogs etc
Difference between Migraine and Cluster Headache
Migraine and Cluster headache both results in severe pain but the patient gets hurt
differently in both cases.
Migraine headaches shows some Aura symptoms before the actual pain starts like food
cravings for certain foods or rapid mood changes.
You may also feel some sensory changes like affecting vision, muscle weakness etc. All
these symptoms are common before migraine headache. Migraine headache last up to
few hours to few days.
Cluster headaches are chronic and episiodic. They have both short and long span and can
lasts up to year resulting in severe pain on one side only or
Migraine can be triggered due to weather changes, Stress, Loud Noises, Hunger, Anxiety or
Depression, Certain Drugs etc. Where as there is not root evidence has been found till yet
for the causes of Cluster headache
Last, but not the least Cluster headaches are not cause of death but severity of high pain
results in overall low health condition of patients. By following above tips and proper
treatment they can be treated, and severity of pain becomes low and headache episodes
too. Below are some common FAQ’s regarding cluster headache and alternative treatment
How Serious Are Cluster Headaches?
Cluster Headache episodes can be very serious. Patient suffer very severe painful
headaches episodes. Headache can be for longer duration or have shorter span but
results in severe pain.
Although Cluster Headaches are not life threatening and do not results in death or
permanent brain damage. But, they impact your lifestyle, work and health.
How to Stop Cluster Headache?
There is no defined root cause for cluster headache but several factors like Smoking,
Alcohol abuse, Genetic History and Hypothalamus Abnormalities can results in headache
episodes. By improving some food habits and proper medication Cluster headache can be
How long Cluster Headache Lasts?
Chronic cluster headaches have longer duration as compared to Episodic cluster
headaches and occur regularly for more than one year. It result in severe pain and repeated
Whereas Episodic Cluster headache have short span and occur between one week and one
Headache Free period in Chronic cluster headache is very less and lasts for less than one
month whereas Episodic cluster headache have more Headache free period for a month or
Foods To Avoid to prevent Cluster Headache
Although there are no clear evidence what causes Cluster headaches but based on patient
food habits below are the foods which can be considered as the triggers to Cluster
a. Processed Meal like meat
b. Avoid food with excessive usage of preservatives and nitrites like bacon and hotdogs.
c. Foods with high rich amino acid tyramine like banana, citrus
d. Alcohol Abuse — Avoid alcohol( Beer, Scotch, Wine, Champagne) if you are suffering
from cluster headache episodes.
e. Foods having aged cheese, processed foods like Potato chips
f. Peanut Butter, Peanuts, Almonds.
g. Excessive caffeine consumption in coffee, chocolate, cocoa etc
Does stress results in Cluster Headache?
No Stress do not result in cluster headache. Since headache episodes occur at the same
time each year that’s why people often consider stress as a factor for Cluster Headache.
Alternative Treatments for Headache
Headache can be treated by doing some lifestyle changes and exercise. Although these
suggestions work well along with medication.
Below are the few alternatives treating the headache.
a. Avoid Junk food, Processed lunch meat for consumption.
b. Stop smoking and Alcohol consumption.
c. Jogging and walking in to the fresh air. Doing little exercise to overcome sedentary
d. Breathing Exercises can be very helpful for headache treatment like Deep Breathing,
Rhythmic Breathing and Visualized Breathing.
Breathing Exercise for headache treatment
Breathing exercise helps to lower down your anxiety and controls your stress level.
Breathing exercise helps to keep you calm.
Choose a distraction free place and sit in a comfortable body position. Try to be calm and
take some deep breaths.
Deep breathing:- Just close your eyes and take 2-3 normal breath. Relax your body and
take 2-3 deep breath. Now focus on your breath when you inhale till you feel your
abdomen is full. Slowly breath out like deflating a balloon and focus on the exhale.
Repeat the process for up to 10 to 15 minutes and you will feel more relax.
Rhythmic breathing:- If you are not able to concentrate while you practicing the
breathing exercise and your breathing is short and fast. Just slow down your breaths by
taking long slow breaths. Once your inhale starting counting to five slowly and same
strategy goes while you exhale. By following rhythmic breathing exercise you will be
able to take longer short breaths and able to focus more, relax your body and calm
down. Your stress level will be decreased.
Visualized breathing:- So far, visualized breathing is best exercise to be stress free and
treat headache. Just lay down or sit in very comfortable position. Now just visualize the
whole process of entering the breathe in to your nostrils, passing through the lung, chest
expansion and filling energy in to your body. In return
when you breath out, just imagine all your tension are getting rid out with every breath
you exhale. Continue and repeat this exercise for 15-20 minutes and imagine your body
is getting more relax with every repetition.
Must Read:- Tension Type Headache (TTH) Overview, Causes, Prevention & Treatment
If you are dealing with the Cluster headache or suspect that your headache type is cluster,
than do not ignore it. Take the necessary medications advised by your Health
Professional/Doctor. Don’t wait for the headache severity to increase. Have a healthy
lifestyle, eating nutritious food include fruits and vegetables in your diet, avoid smoking
and consuming alcohol, attend yoga and meditation sessions, take breaks in between the
work. We have one life…so don’t allow headache to ruin it.
Faq’s related to cluster headache
Note:- Healthyqs is the knowledge sharing platform related to health topics. Our health
blogs are reviewed by the medical professionals before publishing. Even though we
request and strongly recommend to take health advice from your Doctor/ Health
professional before taking any medication.
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