Difference between Tension Headache and Cluster Headache

A known proverb comes as, “Every head has its own headache”. Well! That’s very true that headaches are common with most people in the busy world today. However, there are various ways headaches can be classified, for instance the primary headache disorders include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches while the secondary headaches includes the headaches linked with a head injury, stroke etc. This current article will focus on some of the major differences between the tension headache and the cluster headache. Let us check out what we have to know on this.

Differences Between Tension Headache And Cluster Headache:

Before pointing out the major differences between tension headache and cluster headache we will surely note down that the tension headache is the most common form of headache and about 90% of the people who encounter headaches have tension headache and which commonly is linked with fatigue and stress. Comparatively, cluster headache is very rare and extremely painful that occurs in clusters or groups. The cluster headaches are also sometimes known as suicide headaches. More on the differences will be studied in the following paragraphs.

  1. Difference Between Tension Headache And Cluster Headache Based On Their Causes:

    As mentioned above, tension headache is the usual and most common type of headache caused in majority of people at times in life and primary causes being stress, worry, depression, tiresomeness and lack of sleep. Tension headaches are caused due to the tightening of muscles in the neck and the scalp. This muscle constriction is triggered with more of the physical factors including stress. These tension headaches can either be known as episodic headache occurring on a rare basis or may be known as chronic tension headache occurring on a regular basis. Coming down to the cluster headache and its causes, it can be said that the exact cause is not known yet, but it is so painful that sometimes is misdiagnosed as migraine. This is in fact a rare type of headache which is thought to be the caused due to a kind of disorder in the central nervous system. There are medicines available for eradicating the pain with the start of cluster headaches.

  2. Difference Between Tension Headache And Cluster Headache Based On Their Symptoms:

    Here comes the section mentioning about the difference between tension headache and cluster headache based on their symptoms. Please check out the below lists on the varied symptoms of these two types of headaches.

    Difference Between Tension Headache And Cluster Headache Based On Their Symptoms

    Symptoms Of Tension Headache:

    • A feeling of tightness and a pressure feel around the head with pain encounters at bilateral location or on both the side of the head.
    • Mild to moderate head pain beginning from the back side of the head or the neck and moving forward.
    • There may be a pain felt in the neck along with the bilateral head pain.

    Symptoms Of Cluster Headache:

    • Extremely painful with a kind of burning feel in the head, but the pain occurring only on one side of the head.
    • Associated symptoms of the tension headache include either all or any of the symptoms like nasal congestion, watering eyes, facial sweating or drooping eyelids.
    • There might be extremely drastic pain in the head lasting from 15 minutes to more than 3 hours if left untreated
  3. Differences Between Tension Headache And Cluster Headache Based On The Location Of Their Attack:

    Pain in tension type headaches is more generalized and is mainly bilateral occurring on both the sides of the head. The most common portions affected include the scalp, the temple, the backside of the neck and also in the forehead. However pain in cluster headache is usually unilateral and encounters one side of the head. Primary location where cluster headache strike include the affected side of the head and below the eyes.

  4. Difference Between The Tension Headache And Cluster Headache Based On The Gender Predominance:

    Now diving down to the fact on the gender predominance; it can be mentioned clearly that tension headaches are more common in women while the cluster headaches are commonly seen in men. So here lies the difference between these two types of headaches.

  5. Some Other Differences Between The Tension Headache And Cluster Headache:

    Let us study some other differences in brief in the current section.

    • Tension headaches are less severe and may be mild to moderate with the head pain. While cluster headaches are more serious in the severity of the pain.
    • Cluster headaches may come all of a sudden and may encounter for a shorter time period, on an average of 45 minutes to one hour. However tension headaches gradually grow and fluctuate in its severity of pain and may remain for several days.
    • Primary trigger of tension headache is stress. While the triggers for cluster headache include alcohol, nitroglycerin, hydrocarbons(in perfumes), napping etc
    • Symptoms like watery eyes, running nose, drooping eyelids etc are absent in tension headache while the cluster headache is associated with these symptoms along with the one sided head pain.
    • Tension headache is not dangerous to your health. However cluster headaches might require you visiting a healthcare professional and get self diagnosed.


Now that you are aware of the major differences between the tension headache and the cluster headache and must be also aware of the severity of these two types of primary headaches; in case you are meeting with the symptoms of cluster headache, do meet with a healthcare professional and get yourself diagnosed. As mentioned in the article above, cluster headache are also sometimes misdiagnosed with migraine and mistreated.

True it is, “Happiness is to know that your headache has suddenly disappeared!!”

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 21, 2019

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