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Cluster Headache


Cluster headaches are very painful headaches that start quickly, peak within 15 minutes, and stop suddenly. The headache usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes but can last up to 3 hours. A cluster period usually lasts for 2 to 12 weeks but can last longer than a year. Weeks or months may pass before a new cluster period begins.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You feel tired or sleepy.
  • You cannot see clearly.
  • Your stomach is upset or you are vomiting.
  • You have a seizure.

Contact your healthcare provider or neurologist if:

  • You cannot get enough sleep because of your headaches.
  • Your headaches happen each time you are active.
  • Treatment does not help your symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Extra oxygen may give you pain relief during a cluster headache. You will breathe through a plastic mask that is attached to an oxygen tank for about 15 minutes.
  • Migraine medicine may be given to relieve your pain quickly.
  • Steroids help reduce pain and swelling. They may also be used to prevent cluster headaches.
  • Seizure medicine may be given to prevent cluster headaches.
  • Mood stabilizers may be given to prevent cluster headaches. This medicine helps balance chemicals in your brain.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage cluster headaches:

  • Do not smoke. Cluster headaches are more common among smokers. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Do not drink alcohol during a cluster period. Alcohol triggers more headaches during cluster periods.
  • Do not travel between altitudes. Altitude changes can trigger headaches. Do not fly on an airplane or travel between places with high and low altitudes.
  • Set a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Changes in sleep patterns may trigger cluster headaches.
  • Manage stress. Stress, long hours at work, and emotional challenges can trigger cluster headaches. Find out what works for you to lower stress.
  • Keep a headache journal. Write down when your headaches start and stop, and exactly what you were doing when they began. Record what you ate or drank and how much you slept in the 24 hours before the headache. Keep track of the things you did to treat your symptoms. Write down if they did or did not help. Do this to learn what triggers your headaches and how to make them go away.
  • Work with your healthcare provider to manage your pain. Both pain relievers and medicines used to treat other health conditions can trigger cluster headaches. Go over all your medicines with your healthcare provider. Work with him to manage your headache pain and other conditions.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or neurologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.