Cluster Headache: What's New?

Neurol India. 2021 Mar-Apr;69(Supplement):S124-S134. doi: 10.4103/0028-3886.315983.


Background: Cluster headache is a highly disabling primary headache disorder which is widely described as the most painful condition a human can experience.

Aim: To provide an overview of the clinical characteristics, epidemiology, risk factors, differential diagnosis, pathophysiology and treatment options of cluster headache, with a focus on recent developments in the field.

Methods: Structured review of the literature on cluster headache.

Results: Cluster headache affects approximately one in 1000 of the population. It is characterised by attacks of severe unilateral head pain associated with ipsilateral cranial autonomic symptoms, and the tendency for attacks to occur with circadian and circannual periodicity. The pathophysiology of cluster headache and other primary headache disorders has recently become better understood and is thought to involve the hypothalamus and trigeminovascular system. There is good quality evidence for acute treatment of attacks with parenteral triptans and high flow oxygen; preventive treatment with verapamil; and transitional treatment with oral corticosteroids or greater occipital nerve injection. New pharmacological and neuromodulation therapies have recently been developed.

Conclusion: Cluster headache causes distinctive symptoms, which once they are recognised can usually be managed with a variety of established treatments. Recent pathophysiological understanding has led to the development of newer pharmacological and neuromodulation therapies, which may soon become established in clinical practice.

Keywords: Cluster headache; diagnosis; pathophysiology; treatment; trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cluster Headache* / diagnosis
  • Cluster Headache* / epidemiology
  • Cluster Headache* / therapy
  • Headache
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus
  • Oxygen
  • Verapamil


  • Verapamil
  • Oxygen