Cluster headache and the hypothalamus: causal relationship or epiphenomenon?

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Abstract Typical clinical features of cluster headache (CH) include circadian/circannual rhythmicity and ipisilateral cranial autonomic features. This presentation has led to the assumption that the hypothalamus plays a pivotal role in this primary headache disorder. Several studies using neuroimaging techniques or measuring hormone levels supported the hypothesis of a hypothalamic involvement in the underlying pathophysiology of CH. Animal studies added further evidence to this hypothesis. Based on previous data, even invasive treatment methods, such as hypothalamic deep brain stimulation, are used for therapy. However, the principal question of whether these alterations are pathognomonic for CH or whether they might be detected in trigeminal pain disorders in general, in terms of an epiphenomenon, is still unsolved. This article summarizes studies on hypothalamic involvement in CH pathophysiology, demonstrates the involvement of the hypothalamus in other diseases and tries to illuminate the role of the hypothalamus based on this synopsis.
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