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Cluster headache

Cluster headaches, or Horton's syndrome, are uncommon, but when they occur, they bring on severe head pain. This headache is constant, and is focused in and around one eye.

They usually come on between 10 and 50 years of age, with an average initial age of about 37. They happen more often in smokers and in genetically predisposed persons (family history of 7% of the cases) and predominately in males.


The bouts of a cluster headache follow a typical pattern; it begins as a severe sudden headache, constant and localized in the majority of cases by the eye or temple. It normally appears on only one side of the face, reappearing normally on the same side. They are not preceded by an aura and the pain climaxes in a short time.

Two-thirds of the patients also have excessive sweating, redness and tearing of one eye, nasal congestion, or a droopy eyelid, and the pupil may change size during the headache.

The attacks last between 15 - 180 minutes, and normally they occur one to three times a day. Cluster headaches occur in groups, or clusters, and each attack last about 1 to 3 hours on average. The frequency of occurrence may range from every other day to multiple times a day. Cluster periods are followed by remissions that may last months or years.

These episodic headaches normally happen around the same time every day, often near bedtime or after you go to sleep. This differs from migraines as the cluster headache attacks commonly wake the patient in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of the head.


Currently there are no measures to prevent the appearance of cluster headaches. However, there are divers action that can be taken to lessen and space the number of bouts, as well as avoiding triggering factors such as alcohol, nicotine, certain foods and bright lights. In addition, it is important to maintain an adequate lifestyle:

  • Keep a regular bedtime routine
  • Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, narcotic analgesics, bright sunlight and emotional stress
  • Get moderate exercise
  • Learn relaxation techniques

Gene or region studied

  • HCRTR2
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