Cluster Headache

Cluster Headache Overview 

“Imagine, your eye is pushed out of its socket and your right eyelid is beginning to swell shut. You start squinting and your eye is tearing, you are convinced there was blood pouring out. A red-hot knife is crushed into your head, excruciating, horrible, horrible pain. Your only saving grace is to pace from room to room, crying, flinging yourself to the floor, until eventually the pain drains from you. Waiting for the next attack to happen is a terrible, scary feeling. I sometimes think that I will go mad. I’m exhausted but then the next one hits.” 1

Cluster headache is one of the most severe, painful and disabling types of headache. Often called the “suicide headache,” it is characterized by intense stabbing pain around one eye accompanied by tearing, redness, and swelling or drooping of the eyelid.  Patients describe the pain of a single attack as being worse than anything else they have experienced, including childbirth.1

The term “cluster” refers to the grouping of attacks. Cluster headaches may occur up to eight times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months, or longer. 1,2 They typically occur at the same time of day and often at night.  The headaches may disappear completely (or go into “remission”) for months or years, only to recur at a later date. A cluster headache typically awakens a person from sleep one to two hours after going to bed. 1


  1. May, A. Cluster headache: pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management. Lancet 2005; 366: 843–55
  2. Headache Classification Subcommittee of the International Headache Society. The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 3rd ed. Cephalalgia 2013; 33(9) 629–808