Cluster headaches begin suddenly and without warning. The pain is very severe and is often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. The pain is typically felt around the eye, temple and sometimes face, and typically recurs on the same side for each attack.
Often people feel restless and agitated during an attack because the pain is so intense, and may react by rocking, pacing or banging their head against the wall.
They commonly also have at least one of the following associated symptoms:
These attacks generally last between 15 minutes and three hours, and typically occur between one and eight times a day.
Cluster headaches usually occur every day, in bouts lasting several weeks or months at a time, before they subside. Remission will often follow, which sometimes lasts months or years before the headaches start again.
During a cluster headache bout, the headaches often occur at the same time each day. For example, people often wake up with a headache within a couple of hours of going to sleep. The attacks also seem to recur at similar times of the year, most often in spring and autumn.
Some people notice certain triggers for their headaches during a period of attacks, such as:
Cluster headache bouts separated by a remission period of one month or more are known as episodic cluster headaches. Those separated by a remission period of less than one month, or present for at least 12 months without remission, are known as chronic cluster headaches.
About 10-20% of cluster headache cases are chronic.
Cluster headaches begin suddenly and without warning. The pain is very severe and is often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head.
The headaches can't be treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, as these are too slow to take effect. You'll need to have one or more specialist treatments instead.
Alternative treatments may be considered if verapamil is not effective. These may include corticosteroids , lithium medication and occipital nerve blocks (injections of a local anaesthetic into the back of the head).
The first time you experience what you think may be a cluster headache, then you should see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and may refer you for tests.
Cluster headaches are excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head, often felt around the eye. It's not clear exactly what causes cluster headaches, but they've been linked to activity in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.