Cluster headache

What causes cluster headaches?

Scientists aren't sure what causes cluster headaches, although there are currently several theories. The tendency of cluster headaches to occur during the same time(s) from day to day, and more often at night than during the daylight hours, suggests they could be caused by irregularities in the body’s circadian rhythms, which are controlled by the brain and a family of hormones that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The development of cluster headaches may additionally be related to the body's release of histamine (chemical released in the body during an allergic response) or serotonin (chemical made by nerve cells). It is also possible that a problem in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus may be involved.

Alcohol (especially red wine) provokes attacks in more than half of those with cluster headaches, but has no effect once the cluster period ends. Cluster headaches are also strongly associated with cigarette smoking. Glare, stress, or certain foods may also trigger an attack.

An increased familial risk of these headaches suggests that there may be a genetic cause, though more studies are needed to confirm this suspicion and identify specific genetic changes associated.

Last updated on 05-01-20

How might cluster headaches be treated?

Treatment does not cure cluster headaches. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms. Spontaneous remission may occur, or treatment may be required to prevent headaches.

There are medications available to lessen the pain of a cluster headache and suppress future attacks. Oxygen inhalation and triptan drugs (such as those used to treat migraine) administered as a tablet, nasal spray, or injection can provide quick relief from acute cluster headache pain. Lidocaine nasal spray, which numbs the nose and nostrils, may also be effective. Ergotamine and corticosteroids such as prednisone and dexamethasone may be prescribed to break the cluster cycle and then tapered off once headaches end. Verapamil may be used preventively to decrease the frequency and pain level of attacks. Lithium, valproic acid, and topiramate are sometimes also used preventively.

More detailed information on medications can be found in the treatment and management sections of Medscape Reference's article on cluster headache.

Last updated on 05-01-20

Name: Organization for Understanding Cluster Headaches (O.U.C.H.) 3225 Winding Way
Round Rock, TX, 78664, United States
Phone: 214-783-1899 Email: Url:
Name: National Headache Foundation NHF 820 N Orleans, Suite 201
Chicago, IL, 60610-3132, United States
Phone: +1-312-274-2650 Toll Free: 1-888-643-5552 Email: Url:
Name: M.A.G.N.U.M. (The National Migraine Association) 100 N Union Street Suite B
Alexandria, VA, 22314, United States
Name: Migraine Research Foundation 300 East 75th Street Suite 3K
New York, NY, 10021, United States
Phone: +1-212-249-5402 Fax : +1-212-249-5405 Email: Url:
Name: American Migraine Foundation AMF 19 Mantua Rd.
Mount Royal, NJ, 08061, United States
Phone: 856-423-0043 Fax : 856-423-0082 Email: Url:

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