How cluster headache is explained as an intracavernous inflammatory process lesioning sympathetic fibers

Headache. 1994 Mar;34(3):125-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.1994.hed3403125.x.


A large body of evidence points to an inflammatory process in the cavernous sinus and tributary veins as being primarily responsible for cluster headaches. The inflammation obliterates the venous outflow from the cavernous sinus on one side and injures the through-running sympathetic fibers to the eye, upper eye lid, forehead skin, and the intracranial internal carotid artery and its branches. The active period ends when the inflammation is suppressed and the sympathetic fibers partially or fully recover. Evidence is presented that the symptoms suggestive of an enhanced parasympathetic activity during attacks may alternatively be explained as local pain fiber activation or a stasis in the outflow from the cavernous sinus. Vasodilator agents like nitroglycerin induce an attack by enhancing the venous load on the cavernous sinus. Constriction of the proximal intracranial internal carotid artery, spontaneously induced by stressful pain activation of the perivascular sympathetic nerves, or by exogenous administration of serotonin 1D-like receptor agonists or oxygen, terminates the venous load and thus the pain and associated symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Fibers / pathology*
  • Cavernous Sinus*
  • Cluster Headache / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Vasculitis / complications*
  • Vasculitis / pathology