Could Your Migraines Actually Be Cluster Headaches?

If you've found yourself incapacitated with the blinding head pain, light sensitivity, nausea, and other symptoms of a migraine more than once or twice in the last month, you may be considering a visit to your physician to see whether there's anything that can be done to minimize the impact these unpleasant symptoms can have on your daily life. While you may have already self-diagnosed yourself with a migraine, in many cases, you may instead be dealing with "cluster headaches" -- a specific (and somewhat unknown) type of headache that causes severe pain behind the eyes and can recur for weeks or months at a time. Read on to learn more about what can cause cluster headaches, as well as some of the signs that can indicate that you're suffering from these headaches rather than migraines. 

What are cluster headaches? 

Cluster headaches are caused by pressure on the hypothalamus, which can trigger sharp headaches behind the eyes and along the nerve that passes through the center of your face. You may experience heat or cold sensations along this nerve during your headache, and can find that the pain is so great you must pace or do other manual work to distract yourself until the pain subsides. Cluster headaches can often go into remission, but may pop up again after just a few months, making them especially frustrating to deal with. 

How can you tell whether you have cluster headaches or migraines?

While these painful conditions have a number of similarities, they're also different enough that it can be fairly easy to distinguish between them. Cluster headaches come on suddenly and can go away just as quickly, while migraines tend to build over a period of hours and can linger for days. Cluster headaches are also more likely to follow a pattern that persists despite changes in lifestyle or stress, while migraines can often be brought on (or avoided) by changes in diet, exercise habits, or other lifestyle factors. Finally, cluster headaches are less likely than migraines to result in nausea or vomiting, although some with cluster headaches have been known to vomit from the pain.

What are your treatment options? 

Treatment for cluster headaches can include medication, nerve blocks, and even surgery to reduce pressure on the trigeminal nerve. Because these headaches can severely impact your quality of life, you'll want to visit a physician, like one from Billings Clinic, as soon as you can so that you'll be able to get started on a treatment regimen quickly.