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Lancet Neurol. 2002 Aug;1(4):251-7.

Pathophysiology of cluster headache: a trigeminal autonomic cephalgia.

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  • 1Institute of Neurology, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, UK. peterg@ion.ucl.ac.uk


Cluster headache is a form of primary neurovascular headache with the following features: severe unilateral, commonly retro-orbital, pain accompanied by restlessness or agitation, and cranial (parasympathetic) autonomic symptoms, such as lacrimation or conjunctival injection. It occurs in attacks typically of less than 3 h in length and in bouts (clusters) of a few months during which the patient has one or two attacks per day. The individual attack involves activation of the trigeminal-autonomic reflex; thus, such headaches can be broadly classified with the other trigeminal-autonomic cephalgias, such as paroxysmal hemicrania and the syndrome of short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing. Observations of circadian biological changes and neuroendocrine disturbances have suggested a pivotal role for the hypothalamus in cluster headache. Functional neuroimaging with PET and anatomical imaging with voxel-based morphometry have identified the posterior hypothalamic grey matter as the key area for the basic defect in cluster headache.

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