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Ever Heard Of Thunderclap Headaches; Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

For all the spicy-food lovers, this one may come off as a scary piece of news. After a man engaged in a hot pepper challenge where he had to eat a Carolina Reaper (the world’s hottest pepper), he was struck by thunderclap headaches. The thunderclap headaches are just as fierce as its name. It started with dry heaves and was accompanied by severe neck pain and headaches. The thunderclap headaches occurred quite often for several days and continued for many seconds. However, his medical emergency showed normal neurological conditions. After 5 weeks, the man returned to his normal condition. Previously, consumption of these peppers has been linked to heart attacks as well.
What are thunderclap headaches?

A thunderclap headache, just as the name suggests, is a severe headache which starts suddenly and lasts for several seconds. These headaches do not get fierce with time; instead, they are extreme right from the beginning. It is sometimes described as the worst headache of a person’s life. These headaches could be indicative of a life-threatening situation like bleeding in the brain and should get medical attention immediately. Even if they do not indicate a life-threatening situation, they should be given medical attention.

Neurologist Dr Praveen Gupta says, “Thunderclap is also known as an acute severe headache. It feels as if the head has been struck by a thunder. It starts within seconds and reaches its peak in minutes. It can be a symptom of many life-threatening conditions which should be diagnosed in time. The commonest cause for this is bleeding in the brain.”

What are the causes of thunderclap headaches?

According to Dr Praveen, thunderclap headaches are usually a symptom of a life-threatening condition. These conditions require immediate medical attention and must not be ignored under any circumstances. The most common cause is a bleeding in the brain which can sometimes be missed in a CT scan as well. Other causes include:
Blockage of sinuses in the brain which can be worsened due to coughing or sneezingRupture of the arteryA sudden and severe rise in blood pressureHemorrhage inside the pituitary glandInflammation of a blood vesselMild or moderate brain injuryBlocked, ruptured or inflammation blood vessel in the brainStroke

Other lesser common causes include


Sexual intercourse

Bowel movement which causes strain


What are the symptoms of thunderclap headaches?

Irrespective of the reason, thunderclap headaches show similar symptoms. They have no specific trigger reach its peak in 60 seconds. Usually, they go away after an hour but in some cases, they may last for as long as a week. The symptoms include:

A severe headache cropping up from nowhere

Nausea and vomiting

Pain in any part of the head

Neck and lower back pain


What are the treatment options for thunderclap headaches?

Dr. Praveen says that a CT scan, MRI, and angiography to identify the cause of a headache. He said, “Identification of the cause is important because the treatment will be decided on the basis of the cause. Once the serious and life-threatening causes have been eliminated, analgesics can be given to the patient for relief. A primary thunderclap headache is not caused due to a life-threatening condition and can, therefore, be treated with the help of medication.”

(Dr. Praveen Gupta is the Director and Head of the Department of Neurology at Fortis Hospital) Courtesy NDTV