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What is a Cluster Headache?

It’s unlike any other headache.

Cluster Headaches are rare among headache types, affecting fewer than one in 1,000 people. As a result, you may not be familiar with them. However, they are commonly accepted to be one of the most painful and debilitating types of headaches with several specific characteristics that set them apart from other headaches.

Signs and Symptoms of a Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches occur more frequently at night and usually occur in groups or clusters — hence, the name — recurring in a cycle for a period of days, weeks or even months, before disappearing for long periods of remission.

Additionally, the excruciating sharp, piercing pains cluster around a specific point on one side of the head. They usually occur around or in one eye, though in some instances the forehead, temple or cheek.

Other cluster headache symptoms include watering eyes, a runny nose, pupil constriction or drooping eyelids. Unlike migraines, cluster headaches do not worsen with movement; in fact, people suffering from cluster headaches may prefer to move around, as laying down can increase the pain.

Cluster headaches are also known as “alarm clock headaches” for the precise regularity with which they strike, and because they often occur while the person is asleep.

Causes of a Cluster Headache

The exact cause of cluster headaches is still unknown; however, some risk factors have been identified. Men are up to six times more likely to develop cluster headaches than women, and initial episodes usually occur between the ages of 20 and 50 among all groups.

There appears to be a genetic component in the development of cluster headaches – if someone in your family experiences cluster headaches, you may be more prone to them.

Research also suggests cluster headaches may be caused by an abnormality in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates your body clock.

More than half of the people who suffer from cluster headaches are current or former smokers. Finally, for those who suffer from cluster headaches, drinking alcohol during a cycle may trigger an attack, as well as high altitude, bright light or exertion.

Cluster Headache Treatments

Because there is no known cure for cluster headaches, treatments are often applied to shorten the headache, prevent future headaches, and decrease pain.

While some forms of acute medication may briefly provide relief, pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen usually don’t work for cluster headaches in the long-term. Your doctor may even administer oxygen or steroids for the treatment of pain during an attack or cycle of attacks.

The overall prevention of future attacks is difficult, and may require a number of treatment plans as overseen by a doctor. Consult your physician about the best cluster headache treatment for you.

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