Current Understanding on Pain Mechanism in Migraine and Cluster Headache

Anesth Pain Med. 2016 Apr 23;6(3):e35190. doi: 10.5812/aapm.35190. eCollection 2016 Jun.


Context: Migraine and cluster headache are undoubtedly painful conditions. The respective pathogenesis of these two conditions is incompletely understood. In both cases, the treatments used have largely been empirical and have relied to a much lesser extent on our understanding of the mechanisms causing pain. We hereby review the pain mechanisms in migraine and cluster headache, two of the commonest primary headache disorders.

Evidence acquisition: A review of the English literature was conducted by searching PubMed for studies on pain mechanism in migraine and cluster headache. We entered [migraine] and [pain mechanism] in Pubmed and 488 articles were obtained. Articles were then included according to their relevance to the topic. Similarly, [cluster headache] and [pain mechanism] revealed 79 search results.

Results: There is evidence that the trigeminovascular system and neurogenic inflammation play important roles, together with certain areas of the brain, leading to these conditions being termed 'neurovascular headaches'. Functional imaging findings suggest a possible role of the dorsolateral pons in generating migraine attacks while the role of the hypothalamus in cluster headache is more firmly established.

Conclusions: Migraine and cluster headache have complex pathophysiologies. The exact mechanism causing pain in both conditions is incompletely understood and more research needs to be undertaken in this area.

Keywords: Cluster Headache; Migraine; Pain.

Publication types

  • Review