Cluster headache : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Histamine headache, Headache – histamine, Migrainous neuralgia, Headache – cluster

Definition

A cluster headache is one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year, separated by long pain-free periods that last at least 1 month, possibly longer.

See also:

  • Headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Tension headache

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Cluster headaches are a fairly common form of chronic, repeated headaches. They are more common in men than women. The headaches can occur at any age but are most common in adolescence and middle age. The tend to run in families.

Scientists do not know exactly what causes cluster headaches, but they appear to be related to the body’s sudden release of histamine or serotonin.

The following may trigger cluster attacks:

  • Alcohol and cigarette smoking
  • High altitudes (trekking, air travel)
  • Bright light (including sunlight)
  • Exertion
  • Heat (hot weather, hot baths)
  • Foods high in nitrites (such as bacon and preserved meats)
  • Certain medications (including nitroglycerin and various blood pressure medications)
  • Cocaine

Pictures & Images

Brain

The major areas of the brain have one or more specific functions.

Hypothalamus

Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a highly complex structure in the brain that regulates many important brain chemicals. Malfunction of this area of the brain may give rise to cluster headaches.

Cause of headaches

Cause of headaches

Cluster headaches may be caused by blood vessel dilation in the eye area. Inflammation of nearby nerves may give rise to the distinctive stabbing, throbbing pain usually felt in one eye. The trigeminal nerves branch off the brainstem behind the eyes and send impulses throughout the cranium and face.

Pain of cluster headache

Pain of cluster headache

The symptoms of a cluster headache include stabbing severe pain behind or above one eye or in the temple. Tearing of the eye, congestion in the associated nostril, and pupil changes and eyelid drooping may also occur.


Review Date : 12/21/2009
Reviewed By : David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital.

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