Cluster Headaches

Cluster Headaches

What are cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches, also known as cluster migraines, get their name because people can suffer from attacks of symptoms over a ‘cluster’ of weeks or even months. In some cases, people may suffer from up to eight headaches a day. The symptoms are often extremely painful but have been known to be alleviated through treatment with medical cannabis.


What are the symptoms of cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches are rare, but anyone can get them. They are most common in men and symptoms often start when the person reaches their 30s or 40s. 

The headaches themselves will often occur without warning, with sudden and severe pain around the eyes, often on just one side of the head. It will often feel like a sharp burning or piercing situation.

People experiencing cluster headaches will often feel restless or agitated in the midst of the attack due to the intensity of the pain. It’s hard to focus on anything else and can result in them rocking, pacing, or even banging their head against a wall in an attempt to manage the pain.

Other associated symptoms of cluster migraines include: 


  • Red and watering eyes, particularly on the same side as the pain
  • Drooping or swollen eyelids
  • Smaller pupils in one eye
  • Sweating a lot from your temples
  • Blocked or runny nostrils


Attacks usually last between 15 minutes and three hours and, depending on the circumstances, a person might experience between one to eight attacks within a single day. They will occur every day for longer periods of times, with clusters lasting anywhere from several weeks to a few months at a time. After that, periods of remission will often follow, lasting months or even years before the headaches start again.

People will often get cluster headaches at the same time every day and at similar times of the year. You might experience headaches first thing in the morning, or always during the winter, depending on your own circumstances.


What causes cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches have been connected to activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates various bodily processes, including hunger, thirst, and body temperature. There is some evidence to show that cluster headaches can also be hereditary. 

Smoking, drinking alcohol, exposure to heat, and smelling certain strong smells, such as perfume, paint, or petrol, have also been known to trigger attacks of cluster migraines.


What are the treatment options?

There is no known cure for cluster headaches, but the painful symptoms can be managed with the right treatment. There are certain prescription painkillers and medications that can help to both alleviate the discomfort and prevent future attacks. Doctors also advise avoiding any potential triggers, such as smoking, alcohol, and strong smells.

Acute symptoms from cluster headaches can be treated through stronger medications or oxygen delivered through a face mask. Other treatment options include sumatriptan injections, which can be administered yourself up to twice a day, or a sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray for those wanting to avoid injections. 

Over-the-counter pain relief is not usually effective for cluster migraines as they take too long to have an effect. The treatment listed above will usually come into effect within 15 to 30 minutes.

A more recent form of treatment also includes transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (TVNS) which sends low-voltage electrical currents through the neck to stimulate a certain nerve. In addition, a similar device can be inserted into the side of a person’s face with surgery, if all other treatments fail. This is known as stimulation device implantation. Both of these treatments help to relieve pain and reduce the frequency of cluster headaches.


How can medical cannabis help if you are suffering from cluster headaches?

Medical cannabis has been known to alleviate painful symptoms in a number of different cases. In addition, a study in the Netherlands in 2017 showed that medical cannabis was effective in treating acute cluster headaches for those who had also experienced migraines in childhood.

Because medical cannabis contains cannabinoids that moderate the experience of pain, it can be helpful in alleviating symptoms when used alongside other forms of treatment.

At The Medical Cannabis Clinics we can help you to form a personalised medical pain to suit your needs and help manage the painful symptoms of cluster headaches as and when you need to. Appointments with the clinic start from only £70. 

Book a private consultation today and one of our expert specialist doctors can guide you through your treatment options.

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