Published July 15, 2020 By Adam Lowenstein

Not all headaches are created equal. Some people experience occasional tension headaches. Some get migraines every so often. Cluster headaches are another common cause of head pain. For those who struggle with frequent pain, it is helpful to gain an understanding of the potential underlying cause so appropriate care may be found. Here, we discuss cluster headaches, what causes them, and how they may be addressed.

Cluster headaches are called such because they occur in a cluster pattern, meaning that headache episodes occur frequently for a time and then there is a time of latency in which no headaches occur. Cluster headaches may last for several weeks at a time. There is no predicting when they may begin nor when they will end, nor how long of a break may occur between episodes. These headaches may be mistaken for migraines because they often involve intense pain behind one eye. The intensity of pain can be debilitating. Due to the unpredictable nature of cluster headaches, those who are affected may suffer decreased quality of life.

Why Do Cluster Headaches Occur?

There is currently no scientific evidence that points to one known cause of cluster headaches. Because they occur at unpredictable intervals, there is some indication that they may be triggers within the hypothalamus in the brain. This is the same part of the brain that regulates circadian rhythms associated with sleep patterns. Studies performed to better understand cluster headaches have discovered that the hypothalamus is more active during the active phase of cluster headaches.

Studies have also shown that cluster headaches may also be related to the dilation of blood vessels. When blood vessels dilate or widen, the peripheral nerves of the head and neck may be affected by extreme pressure. This pressure could be what triggers headache episodes.

There is Hope for Cluster Headaches

In many instances of cluster headaches, the inflammation and irritation around peripheral sensory nerves of the head and neck seem to be a trigger of headache pain. Patients who are interested in better understanding their cluster headaches can do so by consulting with a specialist. Dr. Lowenstein conducts a thorough consultation and examination that includes a series of specific nerve blocks to determine which nerves, if any, may be involved in headache pain. Headache surgery provides relief by releasing the affected nerves from excess pressure.

Visit a headache specialist to find freedom from episodic headache pain. Call 805.969.9004 to schedule a visit to our Santa Barbara office.

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