Migraines, cluster headaches tied to body’s ‘internal clock’

Migraines, cluster headaches tied to body’s ‘internal clock’

When a migraine or cluster headache strikes, life is suddenly miserable. Now, signs are pointing to a new culprit: The internal clock that regulates how our bodies function.

Researchers at the University of Texas analyzed every study on cluster headaches and migraines that included data about the circadian system, known colloquially as the body’s clock.

It turns out that migraines — and especially cluster headaches — are highly circadian at multiple levels. That helps to point a finger at a particular area of the brain, known as the hypothalamus [HY-poh-THA-luh-mus], as a potential source for the two disorders. The hypothalamus houses the body’s primary biological clock, now making it a prime suspect in the hunt for the source of migraines.

The researchers found cluster headaches had a time-of-day, or circadian, pattern in 71% of those who get them. The headaches peaked late at night or early in the morning.

And then there’s the hormonal component: People who suffer from cluster headaches had higher levels of cortisol [ kawr-tuh-sawl], the body’s main stress hormone, and lower levels of melatonin [ mel-uh-toh-nin ], which regulates sleep patterns.

For migraines, the circadian pattern was found in 50% of people and attacks varied from later morning until early evening. Melatonin levels were also lower among migraine sufferers.

So what does it all mean for those with pounding heads or the agony of migraine symptoms? Circadian-based treatments like using medication at certain times of day or taking drugs to alter the body’s clock could be on the horizon.

That’s a better alternative than seeking the nearest dark, quiet room.

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