Written by Avinash Ramani, M.S. (Biotechnology)  | 
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nithin Jayan, MBBS, DNB on Feb 24, 2014

Causes of Cluster Headache

The exact causes of cluster headaches are unknown. However, it is believed to originate from hypothalamus. Cluster headaches take place when a nerve pathway, called as trigeminal-autonomic reflex pathway is activated from the base of the brain. The activation of this trigeminal nerve takes place from the hypothalamus. Recent imaging studies have linked over-activation or stimulation of the hypothalamus to a cluster attack.

The trigeminal nerve is the chief facial nerve for sensations.

Cluster Headaches Trigeminal Nerve

The activated trigeminal nerve causes the eye pain connected with cluster headaches. The trigeminal nerve in turn, stimulates a group of nerves to cause eye tearing & redness and nasal congestions linked to cluster attacks.

Cluster headaches are not caused by serious brain conditions like brain-tumor or aneurysm.

The cluster attacks might be triggered by-

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • High altitudes (trekking, mountaineering or air travel)
  • Bright, flashy lights including sunlight
  • Over-exertion
  • Intense Heat (hot climate, kitchen heat or hot baths)
  • Foods high in nitrites (Eg: bacon or other preserved meats)
  • Certain medications
  • Cocaine
Cluster Headaches Alcohol Cocaine


  1. Cluster headache - (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000786.htm)
  2. Cluster Headache FAQs - (http://www.emedicinehealth.com/cluster_headache_faqs/article_em.htm)

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