What can cause Cluster Headache?

So what exactly can cause cluster headache? These strange headaches have been a mystery to modern science, but new research may be starting to give us some clues.

After periods that are completely headache free, a cluster patient may all of a sudden start getting 1-8 incredibly painful headaches in a day.  These headaches can continue for days and months, and then disappear again.   Unlike migraine, in which females dominate, 90% of cluster sufferers are male.   Much more rare than migraine, they may attack only 0.3% of the population, and those with clusters often wonder if anyone else has these "crazy symptoms"!

Read here for more on cluster headache symptoms.

What are the theories about what can cause cluster headache?


First, we do know that certain parts of the body seem to be a part of the complex cause of cluster.  For example, the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus.  This is a major part of your 24 hour biological clock.

Although the hypothalamus seems to be key, there are other factors involved, such as the sphenopalatine ganglion and cavernous sinus (both these things are related to the sinus area).  There are also links to the trigeminal nerve, which is involved in the well known symptoms such as eye pain, tearing, redness, and congestion.  Finally, blood vessels and changes in blood flow seem to be involved, but they're not central as we once thought they were.

Because of the cycles that clusters go through, studies have especially focused on the natural rhythms of the body. Serotonin and the hypothalmus especially, because of the way they work on the nervous system and help regulate the automatic functions of your body, may hold the key to discovering the root cause of cluster headache.

Learn more about what can cause cluster headache at the Mayo Clinic.

Studies continue, and we're still learning some surprising things about cluster.

For example, cluster headaches have been connected with sleep apnoea.  One study, in fact, showed 80% of the patients with cluster also had sleep apnoea.   The June 27 issue of Neurology in 2000 reported on this study.  People with this disorder can stop breathing during the night.   Perhaps a lack of the proper flow of oxygen to the body can either trigger or cause cluster headache.

Read more about this study on the cause of cluster headache here:  Sleep disordered breathing in patients with cluster headache.

Treatment, facts and news...

Check out some of the treatments written about on this website - many are effective for different types of headache, including clusters. We have an article specifically about cluster headache treatments here.

Also, be sure to read the latest about cluster headache at Headache and Migraine News.

For more technical information about cluster headache, check Cluster Headache at MedScape Reference.