Migraines Vs Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences?


When it comes to telling the difference between migraines vs cluster headaches, the differential is going to come down to symptoms other than the headache itself. This is because both migraines and cluster headaches can result in severe pain.   

We will begin by comparing the symptoms of migraines and cluster headaches. Then we will look at a potential cause of these debilitating headache types. Finally, we will consider a natural way to get help, so be sure to stick with us until the end.


Symptoms of Migraines Vs Cluster Headaches 

Let’s start with the similar symptoms so we can understand why it can be difficult to tell the difference between these two conditions. Migraines and cluster headaches have the following symptoms in common (although with some differences even in how these symptoms manifest).

  • Severe headache – Cluster headaches are always severe. Migraines often feature a severe headache. However, migraine headaches can be more moderate or mild in nature. Sometimes, a migraine may present with no headache at all.
  • Runny nose – Sinus headaches are often confused for migraines or cluster headaches. This is because both can present with a runny nose. However, migraines will usually present with sinus problems on both sides. Sinus drainage with a cluster headache is one-sided, just on the side where the headache is occurring.
  • One-sided pain – Almost all cluster headaches are one-sided. Many migraines are one-sided, but really a migraine headache only has to meet two of the following four criteria: (1) Moderate to severe pain, (2) one-sided pain, (3) pain that grows worse with exertion, or (4) throbbing or pulsing pain (the most common of the four). 

So even when there are similar symptoms in the comparison of migraines vs cluster headaches, there are still some differences. Now, let’s look at some ways that these two conditions are even more different.  


Contrasting Symptoms of Cluster Headaches and Migraines 

The surest way to know whether a headache is due to a migraine or is a cluster headache has to do with the symptoms that are the most different. Here are some examples:

  • The start of the headache: Migraines may start with aura or even earlier symptoms that lead up to the attack stage. Cluster headaches arise suddenly and go straight into the blinding pain. 
  • Length of the attack: Severe migraine symptoms can last up to 72 hours. Cluster headaches go away just as quickly as they come and rarely last more than a few hours. 
  • Frequency – Migraines may be occasional or can occur as often as daily if you are dealing with chronic migraines. Cluster headaches occur in cluster periods that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a full year. However, you may also experience pain-free periods between clusters last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. 
  • Risk factors – Three times as many women get migraines as men. However, cluster headaches are more common for men than women. 
  • Prevalence – Migraines affect about 12% of people. In contrast, only about 1% of people get cluster headaches.

Clearly, there are many differences between these two conditions. So could it be possible that they have a similar underlying cause? While the cause of both migraines and cluster headaches are a mystery to researchers, there is reason to believe that either could be connected to upper cervical misalignments. Let’s examine how this could be the case.  


Migraines Vs Cluster Headaches – The Role of Upper Cervical Misalignments 

Many health problems are linked to slight misalignments of the upper cervical spine, including neurological conditions and many headache types. How is the neck linked to headaches? Here are a few ways:

  • Increased intracranial pressure – When the top bones in the neck are misaligned, it can keep the cerebrospinal fluid from draining properly. This can lead to pooling an increased intracranial pressure. The pressure, in turn, causes headaches and other neurological symptoms. 
  • Decreased cerebral blood flow – The cervical spine is responsible for facilitating cerebral blood flow. When the bones of the neck become even slightly misaligned, inhibited blood flow may occur. When certain parts of the brain are not getting their full supply of oxygen, headaches and various neurological problems can result.
  • Inhibited brainstem function – Since the C1 (atlas) surrounds the brainstem, it acts as a protector when properly aligned. When misaligned, even by a fraction of a millimeter, it can put pressure on the brainstem and affect the proper functioning of this key brain component. 

Clearly, there is a link between a misaligned upper cervical spine and many headache and migraine types. How can you find natural relief?


Upper Cervical Chiropractors Vs Headaches and Migraines 

Upper cervical chiropractic care is a specific type of chiropractic that involves precise measurements of the C1 and C2 vertebrae followed by carefully calculated low-force corrections. The gentle adjustments are safe for patients of all ages and health levels. In a number of case studies, patients have received significant benefits in as little as one to two adjustments. Some patients with chronic headache conditions have even become completely headache-free. 

If you are suffering from migraines or a headache condition, especially if you have a history of head or neck trauma, it makes sense to seek the assistance of an upper cervical chiropractor. The search feature on this site can help you to locate a preferred doctor near you. Scheduling a consultation could be the first step in finally beating headaches for good.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.