Cluster headache: pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management

Author: Arne May, MD
Source: The Lancet, Volume 366, No. 9488, p843–855, 3 September 2005


Cluster headache is a stereotyped primary pain syndrome characterised by strictly unilateral severe pain, localised in or around the eye and accompanied by ipsilateral autonomic features. The syndrome is characterised by the circadian rhythmicity of the short-lived attacks, and the regular recurrence of headache bouts, which are interspersed by periods of complete remission in most individuals. Headaches often start about 1–2 h after falling asleep or in the early morning, and show seasonal variation, suggesting that the hypothalamus has a role in the illness. Consequently, the vascular theory has been superseded by recognition that neurovascular factors are more important. The increased familial risk suggests that cluster headache has a genetic component in some families. Neuroimaging has broadened our pathophysiological view and has led to successful treatment by deep brain stimulation of the hypothalamus. Although most patients can be treated effectively, some do not respond to therapy. Fortunately, time to diagnosis of cluster headache has improved. This is probably the result of a better understanding of the pathophysiology in combination with efficient treatment strategies, leading to a broader acceptance of the syndrome by doctors.

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