Thunderclap Headaches Have a Variety of Causes

Alaa A. Abd-Elsayed, MD, MPH

Man recently reported to have had sudden, severe headache from eating terribly hot pepper


Dr. Alaa Abd-Elsayed, medical director of the UW Health Pain Management Clinic and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and his team of clinicians, treat patients with chronic pain using a blend of traditional and cutting-edge novel techniques, with a focus on treating pain without the use of opioids.


The clinic, located at 1102 S. Park St., Madison, has 15 providers ranging from a cancer pain specialist and pain management specialists to health psychologists.


Dr. Al, as he is known, took a few minutes to explain the phenomenon of thunderclap headaches in light of the recent news that a man went to the emergency room after eating a Carolina Reaper pepper.


What is a thunderclap headache?

A thunderclap headache is a severe headache of sudden onset.


What’s the difference between a migraine and a thunderclap headache?

The main difference is that a thunderclap headache is more severe than regular migraine headaches. But, definitive diagnosis requires a clinical exam and testing.


What are other symptoms during this type of headache?

In addition to the sudden and severe pain, other symptoms of a thunderclap headache include nausea, vomiting, weakness and change in vision.


Have you ever heard of a spicy pepper causing something like this?

Prior to recent news reports, this is the first time I have heard of this type of thing causing a thunderclap headache.


Generally, what can trigger a thunderclap headache?

This type of headache can be caused by a range of things, including subarachnoid hemorrhage, ruptured brain aneurysm, spinal fluid leakage, brain infections, rapid changes in blood pressure, severe physical activity, some illegal drugs, strokes and head injuries.


Can thunderclap headaches become chronic?

Yes, it can continue can become chronic as long as the cause continues to be present.


What are the treatment options?

There are safe treatments for the pain associated with thunderclap headaches, including painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and calcium channel blockers. Calcium channel blockers are drugs used to prevent calcium from entering heart and blood vessel wall cells. They are used to help reduce blood pressure. The most effective means of treating intense headaches is to treat the cause, not just to offer pain relief.


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Date Published: 04/23/2018

News tag(s):  painalaa a abd-elsayed

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