Cluster headache

Cluster Headache

Cluster headache involves severe pain which is one-sided, occurring in the eye or orbital region, or in the temporal region of the head. The pain is associated with redness of the eye, tears, nasal stuffiness, facial sweating, pupil constriction, a droopy eyelid (called ptosis), and often with a sense of restlessness. The headache pain occurs anywhere from once every other day to 8 times a day, and lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Pain appears in regularly occurring episodes one or more times a day for several weeks, then symptoms disappear between "clusters." Cluster attacks may not recur for months or years. In some cluster headache sufferers, there is a seasonal pattern to their occurrence, with attacks occurring in spring and fall, or in winter and summer.

Although cluster headaches are fairly well-known, they are actually not that common. Cluster headache affects less than 1% of the general population.

Cluster headache was once far more prevalent in men, with an 8:1 male:female predominance. More recently, that ratio has dropped. At present, the ratio has dropped to a 2.1:1 male:female predominance. The reason for this change is not clear, but may reflect changes in women's lifestyles.

Cluster headache can be severe, and has been called the "suicide headache."

A recent study has found a correlation between cluster headache and exposure to passive smoke in childhood.

by Christina Peterson, MD

updated Feb 9, 2010