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Cluster Migraine Headaches

Home > Treatment Articles > Migraine Articles > Cluster Migraine Headaches

Cluster Migraine Headaches are quite rare and when they do occur, it is usually in men. The severe pain of a cluster headache migraine starts very suddenly, usually occurring behind or around one eye. The eye and nose on the same side of the pain of the cluster migraine may become red, swollen and runny and the sufferer becomes restless. These cluster migraine headaches can be frightening to both the sufferer and to his family. They usually last for anything between three quarters of an hour to an hour and a half and a pattern forms where they appear at the same time each day for several weeks – hence the term “cluster migraines”. The cluster periods of migraine headaches usually last from 1 to 2 months. They can appear again after several months have elapsed.

Some of the causes of these cluster migraine headaches are thought to be:

  • Taking some medications such as nitroglycerin
  • Smoking heavily
  • Interrupting your normal sleep pattern for whatever reason
  • Problems with the hypothalamus, which controls your body’s clock


The attacks of cluster migraine headaches can be further aggravated, particularly during the cluster period, by:

  • Taking an afternoon nap – so don’t deviate from your normal sleep pattern and routine.
  • Drinking alcohol – this can bring on headaches very quickly before you have even finished one drink. Alcohol should be completely avoided until the cluster period is over.
  • Stress – headaches may start when you are relaxing after a stressful time.


Cluster migraine headache solutions

Your doctor will normally treat migraines symptoms with 2 different medications – one to take regularly during the cluster period to reduce the number of headaches while a second is taken to relieve the pain when an attack occurs. This second migraine medicine is often prescribed and taken as an inhaler, an injection or a rectal suppository so that the migraine pain relief is very quick. Medicines taken by mouth are too slow to give relief from the pain of cluster migraine headaches. Breathing pure oxygen through a mask for 10-15 minutes or using a local anesthetic in the nose are two further ways of treating the condition.

Fortunately cluster migraine headaches are a rare type of headache affecting 0.1% of the population with an estimated 85% of sufferers being male. The average age of cluster headaches sufferers is 28-30 years but such rare headaches can begin in childhood.

These headaches are considered to be vascular headaches because they are associated with changes in the size of the arteries in and outside of the brain. When biochemical changes occur in the brain, one of the larger nerve branches (the trigeminal nerve) in your head triggers a chain reaction: the changes in serotonin in the blood vessels and the brain lead to shifts of blood flow, bypassing the capillaries and going through shunts to the veins. The distention of these vessels contributes to the pain of migraine. The nerves around the blood vessels release chemicals which cause a sterile inflammation eliciting pain signals into the brain.

Cluster migraine headaches do not appear to be related to any other illnesses nor to diseases of the brain. Also, they do not seem to run in families like other migraines do.

Although they are very painful, cluster migraine headaches can be controlled very well so it is important to work with your doctor to find the right combination of medication.

Go to our Migraine and Headache page