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Nearly a million Americans have cluster headaches, which are known for their extreme pain and their pattern of occurring in "clusters," usually at the same time of the day for a number of weeks. This headache is often described as constant, deep, excruciating pain, and the pain is always located on one side of the head. They do not appear to be linked to hormones or foods, as migraines have. Treatment options include lifestyle changes and medications.

What Is a Cluster Headache?

Cluster headaches, a type of vascular headache, are known for their extreme pain and their pattern of occurring in "clusters," usually at the same time(s) of the day for several weeks. These headaches have been called the "suicide headache," "demon of headaches," and, because it often wakens the person, "alarm clock headache."

Who Gets Cluster Headaches?

Nearly a million Americans have cluster headaches. Most sufferers are men, usually smokers. These headaches usually start between the ages of 20 and 40, although the syndrome can also start in childhood or late in life.

Types of Cluster Headaches

There are two type of cluster headache:
  • Episodic cluster headaches
  • Chronic cluster headaches.
Episodic cluster headaches are the most common type, occurring in up to 90 percent of people who have this condition. These headaches occur up to eight times per day for four to eight weeks, on average. This is followed by a six-month to one-year pain-free period, although this period can last for years.
Chronic cluster headaches, on the other hand, can go on for years with only brief periods (two weeks or less) of remission.
Either type can turn into the other for unknown reasons.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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