Difference between Cluster Headache and Migraine

Cluster headache and migraine are both different kinds of headaches. Cluster headaches in general are very painful headaches and are shorter in duration but recur over a certain period of time like in a few months and are then followed by a period of remission that lasts up to a few years. Whereas migraine is a throbbing or severe pain, mostly on one side of the head.

What is Cluster Headache?

Cluster headaches are headaches that occur in cyclic patterns or cluster periods, they are the most painful form of headaches an individual faces. These headaches awake you in the middle of the night with intense pain around one eye or on one side of your head. These cluster periods last from weeks to months and are usually followed by a remission period during which the headaches stop. No headaches occur for months or sometimes even years during this remission period.

These headaches are rare and not life threatening, there are treatments available to make cluster headache attacks less severe and shorter. Mediation is also provided to reduce the number of cluster headaches you have.

Cluster headaches strike quickly and come without a warning, at first it might seem like a migraine-like aura and nausea. A few symptoms of this headache are −

  • Restlessness

  • Excessive tearing

  • Excruciating amount of pain behind or around one eye and it might radiate to other parts of your face like the neck and head.

  • Swelling around the eye.

  • Flushing your face or pale skin.

  • Runny or stuffy nose.

  • Drooping eyelids on the affected area.

  • Redness of eye

  • Pain on one side

  • Sweating forehead and face

Individuals with cluster headache are most likely to pace, rock back and forth or sit.

What is Migraine?

Migraine causes severe throbbing pain or gives a pulsating sensation on one side of the head. It also causes nausea, extreme sensitivity to light and sound and vomiting. These attacks last from hours to days and they can be so severe that they interfere with one’s daily activities

A warning symptom called as an aura might occur to some people before or during the headache. An aura uncurled visual disturbances like blind spots, flashes of lights and other disturbances such as difficulty in speaking, tingling on one side of the face, leg or the arm.

Migraine that affects children, teenagers and adults progresses through four stages and not everyone who has a migraine goes through all these stages. The four stages are−

  • Prodrome − A day or two before the upcoming migraine you might notice subtle changes that warn you about it like sudden mood changes, constipation, frequent yawing, food cravings, neck stiffness and many more.

  • Aura − An aura might occur before or during the headache for some people and they are reversible symptoms of the nervous system. Each of these symptoms start off gradually and build up over several minutes and sometimes last up to 60 minutes. Some examples for these are vision loss, difficulty in speaking, weakness or numbness of face and many more.

  • Attack − If untreated a migraine generally lasts from 4-72 hours and how often they occur varies from person to person, they might occur rarely or several times during a month.

  • Post-dome − One might feel drained, washed out and confused up to a day after the migraine attack. And sudden movement of the head or neck might bring back the pain again for a brief second.

Difference between Cluster Headache and Migraine

The following table highlights the major differences between Cluster Headache and Migraine −

Cluster headache/ Migraine

Cluster Headache



In cluster headache the pain is focused behind and around one eye and the pain occurs in cycles or cluster periods.

In migraine there is pain only on one side of the head, nausea and sensitivity to light.

Common triggers

There are no common triggers but consuming alcohol during an attack might worsen the level of pain.

Preservatives like MSG, cheese and red wine, hormonal changes or change in the weather are the common triggers for the cause of a migraine.


Severe pain behind or around the eye, tearing, runny nose, drooping eyelids and facial flushing.

Light sensitivity, nausea and dizziness. Including pain on one side of the head.


It is more common in men than woman.

It is more common in woman than men.

Another difference between the two is that cluster headache is caused by hypothalamus dysfunction whereas migraine caused by chemicals such as MSG, changes in the weather, and the hormones and fatigue.


In conclusion, both cluster headache and migraine are neurological conditions that cause pain in the head. Both of these can be treated with medications like dihydroergotamine and triptans. Cluster headache is known to affect men more than woman and are triggered by certain specific factors whereas migraine affects more woman and has various triggers.