The pain of cluster headaches
Cluster headaches are excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head, often felt behind the eye.
Sufferers often call them ‘suicidal headaches’ because they’re so severe.
They are much more painful than migraines or any other type of headache and come on very suddenly.
Cluster headaches are so called because sufferers usually get one to three of these attacks every day, for several weeks or months, before they subside. A pain-free period will follow, which sometimes lasts months or years, before the headache attacks start again.
Because of the intensity of the pain, some people will pace the room, rock, or bang their head against the wall out of frustration, restlessness and despair.
Research suggests that when a cluster headache happens, there’s a lot more activity in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. It’s thought the hypothalamus releases chemicals that trigger the cluster headaches, possibly by causing blood vessels to widen, causing an increase in bloodflow to the brain.
It’s not known what causes the hypothalamus to act in this way. However, in some people, cluster headaches are triggered by certain things, such as drinking alcohol during the period that headaches occur, an extreme increase in temperature (such as from exercising in hot weather) or taking inhaled nitroglycerin – a medication that causes the blood vessels to enlarge.
They are also more common in autumn and spring.