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Vascular Headache: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Vascular Headache: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention
Shweta Chaubey

What is a Vascular Headache?

Vascular headaches are an umbrella term used to describe headaches due to head and neck blood vessel changes. Vascular headaches are often called vascular migraines and cluster headaches, although both these types of headaches are much different from one another. 

Migraines and cluster headaches are called primary headaches. A primary headache has no underlying condition causing the headache. The headaches caused by illness or another disease are known as secondary headaches.  

Infographic describing Types of Vascular Headache


Migraine, a common headache, is experienced more in women than men. There is no definitive cause of migraine, but changes in the blood vessels and nerves may be significant contributing factors. Migraines usually start in adolescence or young adulthood. It may get triggered by factors such as -   

  • stress 
  • alcohol
  • caffeine  
  • foods 
  • sleeplessness  
  • weather  
  • medicines  

Cluster headaches  

Cluster headaches are much more severe but less common than migraines. These headaches occur in clusters, i.e., one or more times a day over a significant duration. Experts opine that cluster headaches are related to blood vessel dilation. Some possible causes of cluster headaches may be:  

  • nerves   
  • histamine release  
  • circadian rhythm 
  • activating the autonomic nervous system  

Men between the ages of 20- 40 are more prone to having cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are also triggered due to elements such as -  

  • histamines 
  • alcohol 
  • tobacco 

Vascular Headache Symptoms 

It is noteworthy that migraines and cluster headaches are unique and have different symptoms.

Vascular Migraine Symptoms

Migraines last for several hours or even days at once. One may encounter migraine pain at a very frequent rate. Symptoms of migraines include: 

  • sensitivity to light, sounds, and odors 
  • lightheadedness 
  • throbbing or pounding on either side of the head 
  • vision problems 
  • nausea 
  • anxiousness 
  • loss of appetite 
  • vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Sharp pain in the head that increases with physical movement 

An aura is a symptom or a sign indicating the migraine headache is about to start. Aura symptoms may involve sensory disturbances and vision changes (seeing flashing lights or blind spots). 

Cluster headache symptoms 

Cluster headaches frequently occur, often at the same time of day or multiple times a day. These headaches may start at any point in time. The headaches last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours and may stay overnight, waking a person in the middle of the night. The pattern may last for several weeks or months. Cluster headache symptoms feel like -

  • stabbing and sharp pain in the head on either side
  • pressure behind the eye 
  • irritation in the eyes or nostrils of the paining side. 

How are Vascular Headaches diagnosed? 

A doctor carries out the diagnosis to find the root cause and severity of these vascular headaches. They may ask the patient to describe their symptoms, track their headaches, not the nature of the pain, the initiation point of the pain, plausible triggers, and any other information that may help decide the treatment method. 

Although mild headaches are often treated with home remedies, it is always advised to consult a doctor if the frequency or gravity of the headaches intensifies over time. 

One must see a doctor if the headaches are -  

  • sudden 
  • trigger stiffness in the neck 
  • caused by a fever 
  • related to pain felt in the ears or eyes 
  • caused by brain injury or head trauma 
  • reoccurring 
  • head feels heavy too often

Vascular Headache Treatment

Treatment for migraines, cluster headaches, and secondary headaches depends on their nature. Migraines and cluster headaches are extensively reduced by making some lifestyle changes to avoid triggers. 

Migraines are often managed at home by lying down in a dark, quiet place and using a cool compress. According to medical professionals, the ice pack for headaches is a reliable way to curb vascular headaches as the cold constricts blood vessels and reduces the neurotransmission of pain to the brain. It leads the brain to register coldness instead of pain. It also cools down the blood flow to the carotid artery in the neck, reducing inflammation and relieving pain.

One may also need medications to reduce migraine symptoms. These medicines may be bought over the counter or prescribed by a professional. Some of these drugs prevent migraines from returning, while others target areas where the pain is radiated. There are many invasive treatment options to treat cluster headaches, such as nerve stimulation and surgery. 


Prevention of Vascular Headaches 

Vascular headaches are preventable. Avoiding the triggers can be an effective way of managing vascular headaches. To keep migraines and cluster headaches in check, eliminate certain foods and drinks from the diet, curb stress, refrain from consuming tobacco, and sleep properly for at least 7-8 hours.  

Some of the Frequently Asked Questions Related to Vascular Headaches

  1. Which migraine symptoms should I be tracking in a headache diary?

    When consulting with your doctor, a headache diary can help provide important information about your migraine symptoms by enabling you to recognize the early signs and take medication immediately to relieve or prevent more intense symptoms from developing. Keep track of how many headaches a day, anything from mild to severe, you’re experiencing each month. Be sure to include the location, intensity, and other associated symptoms, like aura, nausea, sensitivity, and nausea to light and sound.

  2. When should I be worried about Vascular Headaches?

    Migraine or Vascular Headaches can be diagnosed as episodic or chronic based on the number of headache days per month. Episodic migraine becomes chronic for some. People with episodic migraine have 14 or fewer headache days, whereas people with chronic migraine have 15 or more per month (for three or more months). If your aura or migraine frequency significantly increases, you must visit your physician to discuss this further.

  3. Is it true that Cluster headaches are more common in smokers?

    Cluster headaches are more common in smokers. They usually start between the age of 20 and 50 . Typically, these are more common in men and those who suffer from this type of headache experience 1-3 cluster headaches daily with two cluster periods per year. The intervening months are usually symptom-free. Less commonly, a chronic condition develops in which individual only have brief periods of remission from symptoms. Smoking and Alcohol can provoke attacks of cluster headaches.


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HPFY Shweta Chaubey

Shweta Chaubey

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Shweta Chaubey, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. An advocate-turned-writer, her desire to create meaningful and positive content has brought her to HPFY and what better than writing ...

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