Cluster Headaches: The Pain, The Treatments, The Future


Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache, with an estimated incidence of 1 in 10,000. They occur in clusters and can be extremely painful. Cluster headaches affect more men than women and tend to run in families.

Migraines vs. Cluster Headaches

If you’re not sure what kind of headache you have, there are some ways to tell the difference. Cluster headaches are different from migraines in a number of ways: they are more intense and painful, they occur more frequently (about one to two times per month), and they can be diagnosed by their unique symptoms (see below).

Cluster Headache Symptoms

Cluster headaches are often described as a stabbing pain on one side of the head. The pain may last for 15 minutes to three hours and tends to recur in clusters that can occur daily for several weeks, or even months. It’s not uncommon for cluster headache sufferers to experience up to eight attacks a day during active periods.

Because of this, it’s important to seek help as soon as you recognize that you’re experiencing symptoms of a cluster headache attack.

Cluster Headache Causes & Risk Factors

The exact cause of cluster headache is unknown. Some factors that may increase your risk of developing cluster headaches include:

  • Genetics. Some people may be more at risk for this condition because they inherited a family member’s genes, which make them more susceptible to it.
  • Hormonal changes. These can also play a role in someone developing cluster headaches; some people report that they begin having the pain after having children or menopause (when women stop having menstrual cycles).
  • Stress and alcohol/tobacco use are other possible causes of cluster headaches. Stressful situations like divorce, death in the family and job loss have all been linked to this condition by researchers across different studies on CLHs’ causes over the years — although it’s unclear exactly why this happens since stress itself isn’t necessarily an obvious trigger for these types of attacks (like with migraines). Alcohol consumption has also been identified as one possible reason why some people get CLHs because drinking alcohol increases levels of histamine within our bodies (which could explain why red wine seems so effective at helping treat them!). Tobacco smoking has been shown repeatedly throughout research studies as being related closely to CLHs as well; however again there aren’t enough scientific data yet available

Cluster Headache Diagnosis & Tests

After you tell your doctor about your symptoms, he or she will diagnose cluster headaches based on their description. The doctor may order blood tests and imaging to rule out other conditions. If you have a stroke-like headache, for example, it could point to something else.

If the doctor suspects that you have cluster headaches but cannot pinpoint the cause, he or she might do some tests:

  • A CT scan is an X-ray of the brain that can show any abnormalities like tumors or bleeding in the brain. It can also reveal any abnormalities in blood vessels around your head. This test is usually done if there are signs that another condition is present that could be causing these symptoms. People with severe allergies don’t usually get them because they would be allergic to something inside their body instead of outside like pollen or dust mites besides those people whose allergies aren’t too severe so they should still take caution when using Scopolamine Patch which can cause side effects such as motion sickness so make sure not use this method if you’re sensitive against motion sickness otherwise it may lead into worse situation; therefore always consult your physician first before taking this medication and avoid using any other drug containing diphenhydramine such as NyQuil PM since these two medications have same active ingredients so combining them together could lead into serious side effects such as hallucinations which means seeing things that aren’t really there!

Acute Treatment for Cluster Headaches

Acute Treatment

There are several medications that can help relieve cluster headaches. These include:

  • Verapamil (Calan), a calcium channel blocker that is safe for treating CH and has been shown to be effective in reducing both pain and frequency of attacks. It needs to be taken daily and may cause side effects such as constipation or low blood pressure when standing up quickly. However, it is usually well tolerated by most people who try it.
  • Oxygen therapy through a mask applied directly to the face can reduce symptoms by increasing oxygen levels in your brain. This treatment may cause light-headedness, dizziness or nausea, so only use this option if you have no other options available because you could become dehydrated while using oxygen therapy alone without any additional hydration support such as water or electrolytes (salt) replacement drink along with some sugar added so that the sugar helps absorb whatever water was lost through sweating during exercise which increases heart rate causing faster breathing rate which causes increased sweating due to increased heat generated from increased metabolism due to activity level increase.* Other treatments include acupuncture (with needles inserted into specific points on body surface), massage therapy/massage oils (with gentle strokes applied over muscles), acupressure wristbands

(which put pressure on certain points on hand), ice pack wrapped around neck area*, heating pads placed over upper back area above shoulders but below neck

The Other Type of Cluster Headache Treatment

  • Botox injections.
  • GnRH agonists.
  • Ergotamine.
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex).
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig).

In a medical tone: It’s important to remember that these are the only FDA-approved medications for cluster headaches, but they aren’t the only treatments available. Other options include short acting triptans, ergotamine and other vasoconstrictors, sumatriptan nasal spray (Sunitinib), and zolmitriptan nasal spray (Zomig EVO).

There’s hope for the millions of people who suffer from cluster headaches, which are often misdiagnosed but can be treated successfully.

The good news is that cluster headaches have a high success rate when treated properly with medication. In one study, 95% of patients reported improvement after taking the standard medication (beta blockers) for eight weeks. Some patients needed to take it daily, while others only needed it at the beginning of an attack.

Another option is to have your doctor administer a nerve block in which they put an anesthetic near your trigeminal nerve, which can help relieve some pain during an attack. However, this procedure has risks and side effects and isn’t for everyone: some people will experience permanent numbness around their eye after receiving a nerve block treatment.

While surgery does come with its own risks—sometimes including blindness—it may be necessary if you continue having cluster headaches despite other treatments like medications or nerve blocks or if you have severe symptoms that affect your quality of life (like falling asleep at work).


While cluster headaches are a difficult disorder to live with, there are treatments available. The most effective treatments for cluster headaches include preventative therapy and acute treatment.