Cluster Headache Causes – And How They Develop

The exact root of these rare, agonizing headaches is a mystery – but here’s what we do know.

The causes of a cluster headache, one of the most painful types of headaches, aren’t very well understood. But research has identified some key factors involved in the development of these rare headaches.

As their name implies, cluster headaches tend to strike in a set pattern, with head pain recurring at the same time each day or night – most often at night. These characteristics suggest that cluster headaches may be caused by an abnormality in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates your body clock.

Additionally, 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 likely to be prone to them.

Cluster headaches are more likely to occur in men than women. Age is also a factor, with initial episodes usually occurring between the ages of 20 and 50.

Finally, while the underlying causes of cluster headaches are still unknown, there are some potential headache triggers that may cause an attack in some people. One common dietary trigger is alcohol — half of cluster headache sufferers in one study reported that alcohol had triggered an episode. Smoking also seems to increase the risk of developing cluster headaches. The study showed that 65 percent of those suffering from cluster headaches were current smokers. 1 Other potential cluster headache triggers may include high altitude, bright light and exertion.

Pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, usually don’t work for cluster headaches. Consult with your doctor if you think you may be suffering from cluster headaches.

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1.  Schürks M, Kurth T, de Jesus J, Jonjic M, Rosskopf D, Diener HC. Cluster headache: clinical presentation, lifestyle features, and medical treatment. Headache. 2006 Sep;46(8):1246-54. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16942468

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