July 20th, 2021
By Sayer Ji
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Cluster headaches are a type of cyclical headache that occur in groupings over a period of weeks or months. These cluster periods are characterized by sharp, stabbing pains that are generally present on one side of the head or around one eye. A cluster headache sufferer may experience one to eight severe headaches per day when a cluster cycle is in effect.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, cluster pain is often described as a “burning” pain, “like a hot poker in the eye,” and is considered one of the most painful of all headaches.[i] Shorter in duration than migraine headaches, a cluster attack typically lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.
While migraine pain is generally accompanied by the need to lie down in the dark, cluster pain makes lying down nearly impossible, with sufferers often pacing or rocking to try and distract from the pain. It is speculated that as many as 1 million people are living with cluster pain in the U.S.[ii]
Causes of Cluster Headaches
While cluster headaches may be misdiagnosed as migraine, a cluster headache is a unique type of primary headache disorder. Cluster headaches are signaled by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for your biological clock and maintaining sleeping and waking cycles. The signal triggers a nerve pathway at the base of the brain called the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sending sensations of heat or pain to the face.[iii]
The study of cluster headaches is still a relatively recent discipline, but it is believed there may be a genetic component to the disease, with some families passing down the tendency.[iv] Cluster headaches also tend to occur around the same time of year, causing sufferers to mistake them for allergy symptoms or work or life stress.[v]
Cluster headaches generally onset between the ages of 20 and 40 and affect men and women at about the same rates.[vi] Cluster headaches may go into periods of remission lasting for months or years, or these attacks may cease permanently for no known reason.[vii]
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