What Is The Main Cause of Cluster Headaches?


Cluster headaches belong to the category of primary headaches. In other words, the most relentless form of headache type. People who experience this may feel nausea. They also have an aura similar to those that come with migraines. At the start of a cluster headache, intense pain usually appears within 5 to 10 minutes and may linger as long as 3 hours.

Cluster headaches got their name because of the way they operate: in groups or clusters. They usually occur during the same time of the day or night for a few days or weeks at a time. These painful episodes affect only one side of the head, frequently behind or around just an eye. 

Cluster Headaches Facts

Let’s check out some interesting information about cluster headaches:

  • Cluster headaches have two types:
    • Episodic – It is the most common kind as it produces 2 to 3 headaches per day that last for two months. After this series of attacks, a year may go before you experience another episode of cluster headaches.
    • Chronic – It is similar to episodic, but this one is without a long rest period between attacks.
    • Women are predisposed to getting more migraines than men. On the other hand, more men have cluster headaches compared to women.
    • Cluster headaches are quite rare. They are much less common compared to tension headaches or migraines.
    • A cluster headache is a generally intense type of primary headache classification. 
    • Most people will experience their first cluster headache by the age of 25. However, they may have already started in their teens. In contrast, some people won’t have them until they’re in their 50’s.
    • Cluster headache pain usually peaks in as little as 5 minutes and may last for about an hour. Unfortunately, some people may suffer several attacks from them each day for several days, a few weeks, or even months. These clusters of painful attacks are frequently interrupted by a phase of pain-free weeks and even months between headaches.

Symptoms and Signs of Incoming Cluster Headache

The most defining feature of cluster headaches is pain! It can be extreme and often comes on without any visible warning. Cluster headaches don’t have an aura, unlike classic migraines. The pain may start as a burning feeling near the nose and deep behind the eye. 

The pain of cluster headache can reach its peak in just a few minutes. People who experience this would regularly describe the pain as the sensation of an ice pick driven deep through their head or into one of their eyes. Imagine that! They can be terrifying, excruciating, deep, and explosive. The eye pain is stabbing, which often means there is an element of rapid electrical-shock-like worth. It persists for a few seconds, often accompanied by a more profound feature that lasts for 30 minutes or more. 

In most common cases, the pain starts in the eye and only on one side of the face. For some patients, pain persists on the same side of their face due to one cluster to the next one. However, some people experience the shock switch sides in the next episode.

Watch out for some symptoms that may happen:

  • Tearing eye
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Head pain that starts after you fall asleep
  • Nasal stuffiness only on one side and a runny nose
  • There is a seasonal component to cluster headaches. Meaning, they most often happen during January and July – these are the months where days can be the shortest and longest.

Possible Causes and Triggers of Cluster Headaches

So, what is the main cause of cluster headaches? The exact cause of cluster headaches remains a complete mystery among people in the medical community. There are several theories regarding this topic. However, these beliefs would seem to focus only on the autonomic nervous system or the brain's hypothalamus. This system is responsible for a significant role in cyclical or rhythmic functions of the body. These would include automatic functions like food digestion, blood circulation, and breathing.

The involvement of these in the cluster headache syndrome is possible and the way these headaches appear in specific times. Some theories about cluster headaches include the following:

  • Migraines and cluster headaches share a similar cause that begins with the nerve that carries feelings from the brain to the head. This nerve is known as the trigeminal nerve. The blood vessels that surround the brain are where the process ends.
  • Others theorize that the pain originates within the deep vascular channels in the head (such as the sinus cavity) and would not incorporate the trigeminal system.

Some other possible triggers and theories:

  • Previous head trauma or injury
  • Smoking
  • Genetics
  • Issues with the regular sleep-wake cycle
  • Other alcoholic beverages, red wine

Getting Natural Relief For Cluster Headaches

Headaches of various kinds can be due to a misaligned bone in the neck –particularly the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebrae. A misalignment in this region places pressure and stress on the brainstem. As a result, the brainstem malfunctions and starts to send the wrong signals to your brain. Thus, it would significantly hinder proper communication between the body and the brain, causing various health issues that include multiple types of head pains such as cluster headaches. 

Upper cervical chiropractic uses a gentle method that encourages the bones to move back into their proper place without the use of force to the neck. As a result, this would repair all the damage caused by the misalignment. Also, it would help patients experience significant improvement in their cluster headaches and other symptoms. Many patients often see their problems go away and never return.

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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.