Cluster Headache Characteristics

The Clusterhead by JD Fletcher

In the last post, I discussed what a cluster headache is. But there are some really weird things that scientists have discovered about cluster headaches. They are important, not only to help predict when they might occur, but also who might be more likely to get them. Although it is not known why cluster headaches occur, the characteristics give us clues that get us closer to figuring it out.


Tend to occur more often in Spring and Fall
Tend to occur more often in men
Tend to occur more often in people with hazel colored eyes
Women who get them often have longer faces and squarer jaws
Tend to occur around the same times each day or night
Follow the daylight savings time patterns
People who get them tend to be heavy smokers
People who get them tend to have higher levels of testosterone
First degree relatives of people who have cluster headaches have a higher chance of getting them too.

So, what causes them?

Since the headaches occur around a “clock”, a disorder of the hypothalamus, a small area near the center of the brain is thought to be the cause. The details are yet unknown. The hypothalamus is in charge of, among other things, sex hormones, biological clocks, autonomic symptoms and stress balancing. There may be other parts of the brain that cause cluster headaches too, but it still is not fully known. (Autonomic symptoms are tearing, runny nose – things that you cannot control)

The pain mechanism of cluster headache is thought to be this: the Trigeminal nerve gets triggered and starts producing nasty chemicals that cause the brain’s blood vessels to get inflammed and swollen. This is the most common theory among headache specialists but many books and other resources still cling to an older theory which is that the brain’s vessels dilate and that puts pressure on the Trigeminal nerve, the nerve that causes you to feel pain in your head. That is “the Vascular Theory” and it is no longer correct.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the different treatments for cluster headache.

One Response to Cluster Headache Characteristics

  1. Hi, my sister asked me to read this website. I had cluster headaches from 1976 until I went into menopause 2009, When I lived in Ohio 1976, my cluster headaches were coming 2-3 times a yr. I could not get anyone to diagnose me. Doctors were looking at me as I was nuts. The only this I could put together about these headaches, was a time pattern that they lasted exactly 1 month. The few medications I was given to try and didn’t help. In 1982 I moved to San Diego. In San Diego I started another time pattern. My clusters started coming every 2 years that last exactly 1 month and I finally was diagnosed. But, no preventive medication really help. I was just told because I was in the 5% of cluster headaches, no one will be researching females. In the 4 yrs since menopause (2009) they haven’t zinged off. The interesting thing. My sister who is older than me started cluster headaches when she went into menopause. Both of us have different symptoms:
    My sister throws up, I didn’t
    My sister has to sleep sitting up, I paste the floor
    My sister doesn’t have any time limits, I did
    My sister clusters come at night, mine stated during the day and by the 3rd wk the intensity moved into the night.
    As far as we know no one in our family has ever had clusters before. Because I’m sure someone would have killed themselves. Thanks for listening and caring.

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