The Truth Behind Cluster Headache

Symptoms and diagnosis for Cluster Headache


By Neurosurgery Singapore

What is a cluster headache?

Cluster headache is pain that occurs along one side of the head. It’s frequently described as pain that occurs around, behind, or above the eye and along the temple in cyclic patterns or clusters. The pain of experiencing such attack is very severe. Many patients describe a “drilling” type of sensation.

What are some symptoms cluster headaches?

Cluster headache is always unilateral, or one-sided. However, some people may experience some variability of the side on which their attack occurs. Most people with such issues describe their pain as occurring around or behind the eye. Pain may radiate along the forehead, into the jaw or along the gum line and into the teeth, or across the cheek of the affected side. Infrequently, pain may extend into the ear, neck, or shoulder.

In addition to head pain, many people with this issue have symptoms and signs that may include:

  1. Watering of the eye (tearing). Some people may only experience some redness of the conjunctiva.
  2. Eyelid drooping or swelling
  3. Runny nose (rhinorrhea)
  4. People experiencing these problems also may have symptoms that are more commonly associated migraine, including sensitivity to light, sounds, or odors may occur. However, unlike migraine, movement does not worsen the pain of a cluster headache. In fact, many people describe a sense of restlessness during their pain.
  5. The headaches associated with cluster occur in groups. While the pain themselves may be brief (as short as 15 minutes), it can recur up to eight times in 24 hours. It may last as long as 3 hours. Cluster cycles may last for only a single day, or may linger for many weeks.

“Cluster headaches occur several times a day. They start suddenly, last for a limited time, and can be very painful.”

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What types of diagnosis?

  • Cluster headache has a characteristic type of pain and pattern of attacks. A diagnosis depends on your description of the attacks, including your pain, the location and severity of your experiences, and associated symptoms.

    How often it occur and how long they last also are important factors.

    Our doctor will likely try to pinpoint the type and cause of your issue using certain approaches.

    Neurological examination

    A neurological examination may help our doctor detect physical signs of having such issue. Our Neurologist will use a series of procedures to assess your brain function, including testing your senses, reflexes and nerves.

    Imaging tests

    If you have unusual or complicated head pain or an abnormal neurological examination, our neurologist might recommend other tests to rule out other serious causes of head pain, such as a tumor or aneurysm. Common brain imaging tests include:

    • CT scan. This uses a series of X-rays to create detailed cross-sectional images of your brain.
    • MRI. This uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of your brain and blood vessels.

Cluster headaches or migraine?

Cluster headaches and migraines are both severe forms of headache, but they are different and need different treatment.

Before a migraine, a person will often experience an “aura,” or visual disturbances, including flashing lights or zigzag lines. A migraine can last for up to 72 hours, and it commonly involves nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.

A cluster headache starts and ends suddenly and it lasts a shorter time. It often features congestion, watery eyes, and a runny nose. It normally affects only one side of the head, and the eye that is watering is on the same side.

A person with a migraine prefers to lie down during an attack, but people with a cluster headaches say that lying down worsens the pain.

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