Since about 40% of people worldwide suffer from headache disorders, you’re not alone when contending with throbbing or tingling pain. Luckily, this means that treatment is readily available for most people who want to conquer pain and get their lives back on track.

Cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia are common neurological conditions that can be immensely painful and debilitating. Read on to identify cluster headache vs trigeminal neuralgia symptoms and how you can get appropriate treatment.

The Basics of Cluster Headaches

Both cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia belong to the same group of headache disorders. This group is called “trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias.”

A cluster headache is an extremely painful headache that manifests behind one eye. It has been described by some patients as feeling like a hot poker behind that eye. Sometimes a cluster headache will also manifest around the temple, but regardless of its location, it is a 10/10 on the pain scale for many people.

There are two classifications of cluster headaches. The first, an episodic cluster headache, happens when a person experiences periodic pain that is separated by at least a month of pain-free days. A chronic cluster headache is one that happens multiple times a year with no pain-free periods that last for a full month.

Trigeminal Neuralgia: What Is It?

Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is different from a cluster headache because it isn’t a hot, throbbing pain. Instead, those suffering from one will feel sharp spasms that feel like electricity.

It also isn’t at the temple or behind the eye. Spasms only occur on one side of the face, but TN mostly causes pain to the lower face and jaw. Some people experience TN by their nose or underneath an eye, but it is rarer. It’s also still lower than they would feel the symptoms of a cluster headache.

TN is almost always chronic and excruciating. This is because the trigeminal nerves on either side of the patient’s face transmit pain signals throughout the face and create sharp bouts of pain exacerbated by sound or touch.

Like cluster headaches, there are two varieties of TN. Type I is known as “classic” pain and has finite, easily definable periods of pain and spasms. Type II is called “atypical” pain and is constantly painful over a widespread area.

Cluster Headache vs Trigeminal Neuralgia: Similarities and Differences

Because both types of headaches involve intense pain, they often get confused with each other. They are also both unilateral, which is a huge similarity. However, the qualities of a cluster headache vs trigeminal neuralgia are extremely different.

One main difference is the kind of pain that people experience when suffering from different types of headaches. A cluster headache’s poker-like burning or throbbing feeling is not the same as a TN’s electricity-like spasms.

The other major difference is the location of the pain. If you’re experiencing pain in your eye or temple, top-of-the-face headaches tend to be cluster headaches. Those lower down on your cheek or jaw are more likely to be trigeminal neuralgia.


Professionals are not 100% sure what causes either cluster headaches or trigeminal neuralgia. However, researchers and sufferers do understand what tends to trigger the pain.

In the case of cluster headaches, the triggers are speculated to be internal. The hypothalamus, a deep part of the brain that regulates your neurobiological systems, activates during cluster headaches. This has led scientists to speculate that cluster headaches may be caused by issues with the hypothalamus.

Trigeminal neuralgia does not have the same sort of speculation, but those who suffer from it are lucky that there are specific triggers that activate pain. Touching the affected facial areas with your hand or another object can cause immediate pain. If possible, those with TN should avoid touching their face whenever they have had a recent episode.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia involves looking into the brain and determining whether the brain activity is regular. This may be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG) that tracks and records brain wave patterns. CAT scans are also common.

However, more often than not, a diagnosis will come from talking to you about your symptoms. You’ll share the ins and outs of your pain with the neurological expert who is providing treatment. They’ll go over what those symptoms mean and help you reach a diagnosis.

Then, they’ll tell you about the various treatment paths available.

Limiting Symptoms

Because cluster headaches and TN do not have proven causes, they can’t be immediately cured. However, they can be treated, which means that professionals can bring your symptoms down over time. In the end, the goal is that you will no longer suffer from headaches.

Both headache types benefit from current, well-researched therapies.

Professionals will look into your brain and see what areas have increased activity during periods when your headaches are acting up. They’ll assess how intense this activity is and what neural pathways have abnormal activity. Electromyography or Nerve Condition Velocity tests may work well here because they measure the strength of electrical activity within a nerve (or group of nerves).

Experts may also look into the areas of your brain that are activated during pain periods. This can help them determine what you’re suffering from, especially if the hypothalamus is well-activated.

After testing is completed, neurological experts will go over the findings with you. You’ll work together to come up with a treatment plan to help you in your recovery. You can ask any questions and talk about various options so that you can find the perfect way for you to proceed.

Get Help for Neurological Conditions

Now that you know the similarities and differences between cluster headache vs trigeminal neuralgia pain, it’s time to begin looking into headache treatment options.

Neurocare of Nevada’s team is committed to helping people with all kinds of neurological disorders get their lives back on track. Our team knows how to diagnose your condition and provides well-researched therapies to help you feel better and experience less pain. Book an appointment to discuss your symptoms and learn what neurological services may help you.