Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 10:01 AM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: What are the main causes of cluster headaches? My son gets them and has poor circulation, especially in his legs, and I'm wondering if that might be causing them.

Dr. Hibberd's answer:
 
The exact cause of cluster headaches is not well understood, but appears to be related to a sudden release of histamine or serotonin. They tend to run in families and are therefore genetically linked.
 
Typical cluster headaches start as one-sided attacks that cause tearing and nasal congestion, usually at the same time of day and often lasting from 30 minutes up to several hours. They get their name from their characteristic sequence of recurrent headache attacks— hence the name "cluster" — over days, weeks or months.
 
There is no reliable blood test to detect this condition. People who get cluster headaches should limit their exposure to the following triggers:
 
1) Alcohol.
2) Certain medications, such as stimulant drugs.
3) Foods high in nitrites (such as bacon or packaged meats).
4) Certain medications
5) Stress.
6) High heat exposure (hot tubs, hot weather).
7) Bright light (including sunlight).
8) High altitudes (as in air travel, hiking, skiing).
9) Smoking.

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