Difference between Tension Headache and Cluster Headache

Tension headaches and cluster headaches are two types of headaches that are commonly experienced by people. While they may seem similar in nature, there are some key differences between the two that are important to understand.

What is Tension Headache?

When you get a tension headache, the pain is concentrated in one spot and radiates outward from there.

Symptoms − A tension headache's hallmark symptom is discomfort that radiates from the temples and crown to the back of the head. Pain in the forehead, sides, and rear of the head is typical descriptions. The neck and shoulders may also hurt and feel rigid. Whether it's an episodic or chronic tension headache determines how long you'll have to deal with the pain.

Diagnosis − Tension headaches are distinguished from other forms of headaches by their characteristic location and quality of pain, as well as by their generally milder intensity compared to conditions like migraine and cluster headache. It is possible to rule out alternative causes of head discomfort with imaging testing.

Causes − Because of its association with stress, a tension headache is also known as a stress headache. Sleep deprivation and general exhaustion are further contributors to tension headaches. In addition to the aforementioned factors, issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ syndrome), eye strain, and neck discomfort can also play a role in bringing on this form of headache. This sort of headache is often the result of being overworked or not getting enough sleep.

Treatment − Pain may usually be alleviated with over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or aspirin. To help avoid these headaches, it is also important to learn to deal with and reduce stress and anxiety. Treatment effectiveness varies greatly across people.

What is Cluster Headache?

Cluster headaches are characterised by extreme pain in the back of or around one eye, which occurs in cycles of one week to one month.

Symptoms − Severe discomfort behind or around the eye is one of the symptoms. It can cause tearing or swelling in the afflicted eye and a reddening of the cheek on the affected side of the face. Furthermore, ptosis on the afflicted side is possible. Moreover, people may get a stuffy or runny nose, and they may feel agitated. Cluster headaches can be extremely painful, to the point that the sufferer has to seek medical attention in an urgent care or emergency room.

Diagnosis − A diagnosis is generally made based on the patient's symptoms, especially the level of pain and its proximity to an eye, however imaging can rule out other potential causes. Furthermore, men are disproportionately affected by this sort of headache compared to women.

Causes − The causes of cluster headaches, including why they are more prevalent in males, remain a mystery to medical experts. Scientists are speculating that issues with the hypothalamus in the brain are to blame for the disease.

Treatment − The treatment often involves the use of powerful pain medications such ergotamine-based drugs and triptans. In certain cases, verapamil and prednisone may also be utilised to alleviate symptoms.

Differences: Tension Headache and Cluster Headache

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


Tension Headache

Cluster Headache


Definition One type of headache is called a tension headache, and it manifests as a constant band of pain running from the front of the head to the back. In the case of a cluster headache, the pain is localised behind or around just one eye.

In the case of a cluster headache, the pain is localised behind or around just one eye.


Mild to moderate discomfort that radiates in a band around the head is a hallmark of a tension headache.

Cluster headaches are characterised by extreme discomfort behind or around an eye, a hot, red face, tears in the afflicted eye, ptosis (drooping of the eyelid), and a runny nose


Stress, exhaustion, lack of sleep, and TMJ problem are all contributors to the development of a tension headache.

It has been hypothesised that problems in the hypothalamus contribute to or cause cluster headaches.


Females, in comparison to males, are more likely to get tension headaches.

Men are more likely than women to get cluster headaches.


Tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or acetaminophen or with stress-reduction practises like yoga or meditation.

Medication of prescription strength, such as derivatives of ergotamine, triptans, verapamil, and occasionally prednisone, is required for the treatment of cluster headaches.


In conclusion, while tension headaches and cluster headaches may seem similar in nature, there are some key differences between the two that are important to understand. These differences include the type of pain that is experienced, the duration of the headaches, and the causes of the headaches.

Updated on: 14-Apr-2023


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