What is a Cluster Migraine?

Article Details
  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

A cluster migraine is a painful, chronically recurring type of headache. It tends to affect only one side of the head and face, and it may cause eye twitching and tear production. People tend to experience cluster migraines in quick succession, sometimes suffering from two or more episodes a day for weeks or months at a time. Clusters are typically followed by long, symptom free periods before the next cluster strikes. Doctors cannot cure the problem, but medications can be prescribed to relieve pain during a cluster migraine and to reduce the likelihood of recurring headaches.

Since cluster migraines affect each sufferer differently, doctors have not identified a clear cause. It appears that most episodes occur when the trigeminal nerve, the largest nerve in the face, is suddenly activated by chemical signals from the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus is overactive, the trigeminal nerve registers painful, burning sensations that extend to other nerves in one side of the brain. It is unclear exactly what triggers abnormal hypothalamus activity, but research suggests that stress, smoking, and alcohol consumption can magnify the effects once a cluster pattern begins.


In most cases, a cluster migraine comes on suddenly and without warning. Immediate, throbbing pain in one side of the head is common. A person may feel a burning sensation around the eye on the affected side. Swelling and tenderness develop behind the eye, and it might turn red and start to tear. A cluster migraine typically makes walking, reading, and even speaking very difficult, and most people need to sit or lie down to wait out episodes.

Cluster migraines can last anywhere from 15 minutes at a time to several hours. They tend to recur at the same time each day, and some people are prone to experiencing episodes after falling asleep. A person who suffers from frequent debilitating headaches should visit a specialist to learn about treatment options.

When meeting with a neurologist, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans are taken to check for physical abnormalities, such as brain tumors and nerve compression. If imaging tests do not reveal obvious problems, a doctor usually suggests that the patient keep a daily journal to document episodes in detail. Patients record such information as sleep patterns, times that headaches appear, and any food, drinks, or stress factors that precede attacks. The neurologist uses the journal to identify triggers and predict when a cluster migraine is likeliest to strike.

Cluster migraines cannot be cured, but a patient can take prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers to ease symptoms during an episode. A severe, persistent headache that requires an emergency room visit is treated with oxygen therapy and an injection of sumatriptan, a common migraine medication that blocks nerve activity. People who suffer from frequently recurring headaches are usually given preventive medications to be taken daily.



Discuss this Article

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?