Cluster headache: Pharmacological treatment and neurostimulation

Massimo Leone, Angelo Franzini, Alberto Proietti Cecchini, Eliana Mea, Giovanni Broggi, Gennaro Bussone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cluster headache is a primary headache syndrome that is characterized by excruciatingly severe, strictly unilateral attacks of orbital, supraorbital or temporal pain, which last 15 - 180 min and are accompanied by ipsilateral autonomic manifestations (e.g. lacrimation and rhinorrhea). The attacks typically occur with circadian rhythmicity, being experienced at fixed hours of the day or night. In episodic cluster headache, attacks usually occur daily in 6 - 12-week bouts (cluster periods) followed by remission periods. In chronic cluster headache there is no notable remission. Cluster headache attacks reach full intensity very quickly and abortive agents need to be administered without delay. The pathophysiology of cluster headache is imperfectly understood and treatment has so far been mainly empirical. However, neuroimaging studies have prompted the successful use of hypothalamic stimulation to treat the condition. More recently, the less invasive technique of occipital nerve stimulation has shown promise in drug-refractory chronic cluster headache. This Review discusses both acute and preventive treatments for cluster headache and includes suggestions of how to use the available medications. The rationale, study results and selection criteria for neurostimulation procedures are also summarized, as are the disadvantages of these procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-162
Number of pages10
JournalNature clinical practice. Neurology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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