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Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are characterized by excruciating, piercing pain on one side of the head and eye; they occur more frequently in men than women.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

About Cluster Headaches

Cluster headache - the most severe form of primary headache - involves sudden, extremely painful headaches that occur in "clusters," usually at the same time of the day and night for several weeks. They strike one side of the head, often behind or around one eye, and may be preceded by a migraine-like aura and nausea.

The pain usually peaks 5 to 10 minutes after onset and continues at that intensity for up to 3 hours. The nose and the eye on the affected side of the face may get red, swollen, and teary. Some people will experience restlessness and agitation, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. Cluster headaches often wake people from sleep.

Cluster headaches generally begin between the ages of 20 and 50 but may start at any age, occur more often in men than in women, and are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers. The attacks are usually less frequent and shorter than migraines. It's common to have 1 to 3 cluster headaches a day with 2 cluster periods a year, separated by months of freedom from symptoms.

The cluster periods often appear seasonally, usually in the spring and fall, and may be mistaken for allergies. A small group of people develop a chronic form of the disorder, which is characterized by bouts of headaches that can go on for years with only brief periods (1 month or less) of remission....Read more about Cluster Headaches NIH - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Triptans for acute cluster headache

Cluster headaches are excruciating headaches of extreme intensity. They can last for several hours, are usually on one side of the head only, and affect men more than women. Multiple headaches can occur over several days. Fast pain relief is important because of the intense nature of the pain with cluster headache.

Headaches: Diagnosis and Management of Headaches in Young People and Adults [Internet]

Many non-specialist healthcare professionals can find the diagnosis of headache difficult, and both people with headache and their healthcare professionals can be concerned about possible serious underlying causes. This leads to variability in care and may mean that people with headaches are not always offered the most appropriate treatments. People with headache alone are unlikely to have a serious underlying disease. Comparisons between people with headache referred to secondary care and those treated in primary care show that they do not differ in terms of headache impact or disability.

Normal pressure oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for migraine and cluster headaches

Migraine and cluster headaches are severe and disabling. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT, that is the breathing of pure oxygen at pressures greater than one atmosphere in a pressurised chamber) and normal pressure oxygen therapy (NBOT) can be delivered via a mask at home or in a clinic. These treatments may help to end acute attacks and prevent future attacks.

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Summaries for consumers

Triptans for acute cluster headache

Cluster headaches are excruciating headaches of extreme intensity. They can last for several hours, are usually on one side of the head only, and affect men more than women. Multiple headaches can occur over several days. Fast pain relief is important because of the intense nature of the pain with cluster headache.

Normal pressure oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for migraine and cluster headaches

Migraine and cluster headaches are severe and disabling. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT, that is the breathing of pure oxygen at pressures greater than one atmosphere in a pressurised chamber) and normal pressure oxygen therapy (NBOT) can be delivered via a mask at home or in a clinic. These treatments may help to end acute attacks and prevent future attacks.

Symptoms of migraines and other types of headaches

Headaches come in many forms. The most common are tension headaches, cluster headaches and migraines. Headaches that have no specific cause such as an illness or injury are referred to as primary headaches. Headaches that are caused by a medical condition or injury are known as secondary headaches. The three most common types of headaches are tension headaches, cluster headaches and migraines. Tension headachesNearly everyone has tension headaches from time to time. The paincan be described as a dull - not pulsating - pain, accompanied by a feeling of pressure or tightness, that is felt on both sides of the head,is mild to moderate,can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days,usually occurs once a month at most,does not cause nausea, but might be accompanied by sensitivity to light, anddoes not get worse during physical activity.People who have migraines sometimes have tension headaches too.Common types of headaches: Where they typically occur Illustration: Common types of headaches: Where they typically occur - as described in the informationCluster headachesCluster headaches affect only one side of your head, near the temple and around the eye. The headaches are usually on the same side of the head. Cluster headachesare very painful,feel like burning or stabbing pain,last from 15 minutes to three hours,happen very often: every other day, usually several times in one day, andare accompanied by other symptoms such as a stuffy nose or watery eyes.Cluster headaches are quite rare. They are more common in men.MigraineMigraine headaches are not as common as tension headaches. Nevertheless, a lot of adults and children have them. Women have more migraines than men, often before or after their menstrual cycle.Headaches are considered to be migraines after five or more attacks with typical symptoms have occurred. Migraine symptoms typically include the following:Moderate to severe pulsating, throbbing or pounding pain usually concentrated in the front part of your headPain on one side of your head, although it may switch sidesHeadache attacks lasting from at least four hours up to three days (at least two hours in children)Sensitivity to light and/or noiseoften nausea as wellSymptoms that get worse during physical activityMigraines may also be accompanied by vision problems, flashes of light, an impaired sense of smell or unusual skin sensations such as tingling. These disturbances are described as "auras." They may occur before or during migraine attacks. Auras usually go away after about an hour, but may also last longer.A person who has a migraine often needs to lie down somewhere dark and quiet because they find light, sounds and movement unbearable. This heightened sensitivity is one of the main differences between migraines and other types of headaches.Children who have migraines will usually try to avoid bright light. They usually look pale during a migraine attack, and often feel sick and have to vomit. They may also have abdominal (lower belly) pain lasting between one hour and three days. This is called an "abdominal migraine."

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Terms to know

Aura
An aura is a perceptual disturbance experienced by some with migraine or seizures before either the headache or seizure begins.
Headache
Head pain or discomfort.
Nausea
A feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit.
Primary Headaches
Headaches that occur on their own with no detectable underlying cause, such as migraine.

More about Cluster Headache

Photo of an adult man

Also called: Cluster headache syndrome, Histamine cephalgia, Histamine headache, Horton's headache, Horton's neuralgia, Migrainous neuralgia, Neuralgic migraine, Vasomotor headache

See Also: Migraine, Tension-Type Headache

Other terms to know: See all 4
Aura, Headache, Nausea

Related articles:
Migraine: Overview
Signs of Migraine and Other Types of Headaches

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