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Cluster Headache

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

What is a cluster headache?

A cluster headache is a very painful headache that starts quickly, peaks within 15 minutes, and stops suddenly. The headache usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes but can last up to 3 hours. Cluster headaches follow patterns and often occur at the same time of the day or year. You may have cluster headaches once every other day, or up to 8 each day. 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. A cluster headache can be triggered by alcohol, medicine, stress, bright light, or heat.

Headache Types

What increases my risk for a cluster headache?

The cause is not known. You are more likely to have cluster headaches if you are male. They often begin between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Your risk is also higher if you smoke or have a family history of cluster headaches.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cluster headache?

How is a cluster headache diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your symptoms. Tell the provider how often your headaches occur and how long they last. The provider will ask about your medical history and medicines. Tell your provider if you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. You may also need any of the following tests:

How is a cluster headache treated?

Cluster headaches cannot be cured, but treatment may help your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may have you try several medicines to find out what works best for you. You may need medicines for pain and for prevention. The following may be used to treat pain during a cluster headache:

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to prevent a cluster headache?

One goal is to prevent headaches before they happen. Another goal is to shorten a cluster period. Headaches may happen less often and be less severe with certain medicines. Seizure medicine or mood stabilizers may be given to prevent cluster headaches. You may need to take one medicine at the start of a cluster period. You may take a different medicine for as long as your cluster period lasts or is expected to last.

What can I do to manage cluster headaches?

You or someone close to you should call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor or neurologist?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.