The following information is provided by Clusterbusters, a non-profit patient-led organization dedicated to furthering research and education on cluster headaches. Read more about Clusterbusters on our Cluster Headache Resources page, or visit www.clusterbusters.org
Cluster Headaches are one of the worst pains of any kind known to medical science. They've been nicknamed "suicide headaches" because they have been known to drive people to this desperate action in an attempt to end the pain.
They are NOT the usual sort of headache. They are NOT migraines. In fact, Cluster Headache sufferers often wish the condition had been named differently—to indicate how severe they are—and some refer to Cluster Episodes as “attacks” rather than headaches. The severity of the attacks, the way they seem to regularly return, and the tenacity with which they defy treatment can inspire sufferers to personify them into some kind of animate evil: The Beast.
A MEDICAL MYSTERY
What causes Cluster Headache is ultimately still unknown, but it seems to involve the hypothalamus: a small but very important organ deep in the center of the brain. The hypothalamus controls the autonomic functions of the body—the stuff we don’t have to think about. It serves as the body’s time clock and controls body temperature, blood vessel status, digestion and many other things.
Scientists think a malfunction or abnormality of the hypothalamus may cause the carotid arteries that feed the brain to enlarge and press on the trigeminal nerves. The trigeminal is a bundle of nerves, one bundle on each side of the head, that split into three to serve the upper jaw, face, forehead and temple. Pressure applied to this area causes incredible pain.
This theory got complicated, though, when researchers found that the pain of cluster headache seems to start before the artery expands and touches the trigeminal. Many questions as to the exact cause of Cluster Headache therefore remain, and ongoing research is desperately needed.
THERE IS HOPE
While we do not yet have a satisfactory answer as to the cause of Cluster Headache, we do have methods of effectively treating the attacks and alleviating symptoms.
Treatment for Cluster Headache is complex, and often unique to each patient. But sufferers do not have to live in pain. Help, and hope, is available.
WHAT DO I DO NOW?
At The Headache Center, we are dedicated to helping headache patients of all kinds—including Cluster Headache—take control of their condition and live pain-free. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have Cluster Headache, or any other kind of Headache Disorder, we want to help!