When it comes to headaches, there are two classifications. Cluster headaches belong in the class of primary headaches, and they are the most severe form of this headache type. There are two headache classifications:

  • Primary headaches: There is no medical disease or other underlying condition that causes primary headaches. There are four groups of primary headaches: tension, migraine, trigeminal autonomic cephalgias (cluster headaches, SUNCT, and paroxysmal hemicranias), and a miscellaneous group.
  • Secondary headaches: This kind is brought about due to another illness or disease affecting the brain, for example, brain tumors, hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, and head injuries.

Cluster headaches got their name because of the way they occur: in groups or clusters. Usually, they happen at the same time of day or night for a few weeks at a time. The attacks of pain affect one side of the head, often around or behind one eye. You may experience a feeling of being nauseated and have an aura similar to those that accompany migraines. Within 5 to 10 minutes from the beginning of a headache, the intense pain usually shows up and can continue for up to 3 hours. For this reason, many experts recommend consulting Calgary, AB upper cervical chiropractors so patients can find relief.

Facts About Cluster Headaches

Here are some interesting facts about cluster headaches:

  • A cluster headache is the most intense form of the primary headache classification.
  • Cluster headaches are rare, much less common than migraines or tension headaches.
  • As the name indicates, cluster headaches come about in a clustering of painful attacks over a period of many weeks.
  • This is a very dramatic form of a headache, staying fairly unique in their course as time goes on.
  • The pain from cluster headaches can peak in as little as 5 minutes and might last for as long as an hour. You may experience several of them a day for weeks or even months at a time. These clusters are usually interrupted by a period of pain-free weeks and months in between attacks.
  • Most people will have had their first cluster headache by age 25. However, they may have started in their teens. Some don’t get them until their 50’s.
  • Interestingly, more women than man suffer from migraines, while more men than women have cluster headaches.
  • There are two types of cluster headaches:
    • Episodic: The most common kind, producing 2 to 3 headaches a day for around two months. Then, you may go as long as a year before getting another round of cluster headaches.
    • Chronic: This is similar to episodic without the period of rest in between.

To learn more about the connection between head and neck injuries and migraines, download our complimentary e-book by clicking the image below.

Triggers and Causes of Cluster Headaches

The exact reason for cluster headaches remains a mystery among the medical community. Many theories abound, however. These theories all seem to focus on the autonomic (automatic) nervous system or the brain’s hypothalamus. The autonomic system plays a huge role in rhythmic or cyclical functions of your body — the ones that keep you breathing and digesting food without having to tell your body to do so. It makes sense then that the involvement of either system in the cluster headache syndrome would account for the way the headaches come about in particular periods. Here are some theories about cluster headaches:

  • Cluster and migraine headaches share a common cause that starts with the nerve that carries sensation from the head to the brain. This nerve is called the trigeminal nerve. The process ends in the blood vessels that surround the brain.
  • Others give the opinion that pain comes from the deep vascular channels in the head (such as the cavernous sinus) and does not include the trigeminal system.

Other possible theories and triggers:

  • Problems with a regular sleep-wake cycle
  • Red wine and other alcoholic beverages
  • Previous head trauma
  • Genetics
  • Smoking

Signs and Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

The pain of cluster headaches is the most defining feature. It is extreme and comes on without a warning. It does not have an aura like a classic migraine. It may begin as a burning sensation on the side of the nose of deep in the eye.

The pain peaks in just a few minutes time and has been described as the feeling of having an ice pick driven through their head or into their eye. Words used to describe this kind of pain are excruciating, explosive, and deep. This eye pain is stabbing and has an element of rapid electrical-shock-like qualities. It may last for a few seconds, with a deeper element lasting for 30 minutes or longer. In most cases, the pain begins in the eye and on one side of the face. For most patients, the pain stays on the same side of the face from one cluster to the next. However, some people do have the pain switch sides during their next attack.

There are other symptoms that might be seen:

  • Head pain beginning shortly after you fall asleep
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Tearing eye
  • One-sided nasal stuffiness and a runny nose
  • There is a seasonal component to these headaches. They most often occur in January and July — the months where the days are the longest and shortest.

Finding Natural Relief

Headaches of all types have been connected to a misaligned bone in the neck, particularly the C1 and C2 vertebrae. A misalignment here puts stress on the brainstem and leads to improper signals being sent by the brainstem to the brain. This hinders proper communication between the brain and the body.

Here, at our Calgary, Alberta office, we use a gentle method that allows the bones to move back into place without the use of force or added stress to the neck. This repairs damage done by the misalignment and will help you see an improvement in your cluster headache symptoms overall. Some patients see their headaches and migraine Calgary go away and not return.


To schedule a consultation with Vibe Health & Spine, call our Calgary office at (403) 266-2283. You can also click the button below.

If you are outside of the local area, you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.