Cluster Headaches

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Headache research scientists do not know specifically what causes cluster headaches. They have not been linked to hormones or foods (as migraines have).
There are, however, certain factors that can increase a person's risk for developing cluster headaches. Specific risk factors include:
  • Family history of cluster headaches (up to a 14-fold increased risk)
  • Hazel eyes
  • Disruption of normal sleep patterns
  • Certain medications (such as nitroglycerin)
  • Heavy smoking or drinking.
(Click Causes of Cluster Headaches for more information.)

Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches may begin as a minor pain or pressure around one eye or temple. They may also begin as a burning sensation on the nose. The pain quickly intensifies over several minutes, eventually spreading to that side of the face. A cluster headache is often described as constant, deep, excruciating pain, although occasionally it may be pulsing and throbbing. The pain is always on one side of the head.
The intense pain of a cluster headache often compels the victim to pace the floor or rock in a chair. This differs from a migraine attack, where the person wants to curl up into bed and be still.
  • Stuffed and runny nose
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Sweating forehead
  • Pale appearance
  • Red, tearing eye
  • Nausea.

Diagnosing Cluster Headaches

In order to diagnose cluster headaches, your healthcare provider will ask a number of questions about the headache, such as how often you have them or where the pain is. He or she will also ask about other symptoms that you may experience.
Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical exam, looking for signs of conditions known to cause cluster headaches. If your healthcare provider is unsure of the diagnosis, he or she may also order tests to rule out other, more serious causes.
(Click Cluster Headache Diagnosis for more information.) 
Know the Signs - Concussion Safety

Cluster Headache

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