What Are Thunderclap Headaches and What Causes Them?

thunderclap headaches and what causes them

Some of us love eating chili peppers. But, did you know that besides the burning sensation in your guts hot peppers might give you a headache?

A thunderclap headache is a potentially serious migraine-like condition. This article outlines the mechanisms behind thunderclap headaches and what causes them.

What Are Thunderclap Headaches?

A man ate the Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest chili pepper, in an eating competition. What followed is a two-day ordeal with ferocious headaches which came fast and were extremely intensive. These headaches are known as thunderclap.

The symptoms of thunderclap headaches can be dramatic and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intensity peaks every 60 seconds
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Altered mental state
  • Happen suddenly and severely

Why Do Thunderclap Headaches Happen?

RCVS, or reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, is the primary cause of thunderclap headaches. RCVS is a rare condition that makes the blood vessels in your head tighten, which limits blood supply to your brain. In some cases, it may be followed by a brain hemorrhage or a stroke.

However, prior to the abovementioned incident, there were no medical reports of thunderclap headaches caused by hot peppers. Doctors speculate that capsaicin, a chemical found in chili peppers, triggers the sympathetic nervous system.

Increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system is a mechanism that can induce RCVS. This may be the reason why you might experience a thunderclap headache when eating chili peppers. But, in some cases thunderclap headaches are an indicator of other more serious conditions. So if you suffer from these symptoms, you should immediately seek medical help.


You don’t need to worry because eating hot peppers won’t immediately result in thunderclap headaches. But, RCVS may be a symptom of an impending stroke or other vascular conditions. We hope this article helped you understand thunderclap headaches and what causes them.

brain cells and obesity

These Brain Cells Could Play an Important Role in Weight Loss