What is a thunderclap headache?
A thunderclap headache is an extremely painful headache that comes on suddenly, like a clap of thunder. This type of headache reaches its most intense pain within 1 minute and lasts at least 5 minutes.
Thunderclap headaches strike without any warning. Some of these headaches are benign (not dangerous). But they can also be a sign of very serious underlying conditions that involve bleeding in and around the brain.
It is important to seek medical attention immediately to rule out life-threatening causes of a thunderclap headache.
How common is a thunderclap headache?
Thunderclap headaches are rare. They occur in less than 50 out of 100,000 adults each year.
What causes a thunderclap headache?
Some thunderclap headaches have no known cause and are not dangerous. Others occur because of a problem with the blood vessels in the brain or due to injury or heavy exertion. Causes of thunderclap headaches include:
- Torn or ruptured blood vessels in the brain
- Stroke (blocked or bleeding blood vessel)
- Brain aneurysm (bulging or bleeding blood vessel)
- Head injury that causes a brain bleed
- Vasculitis (swollen blood vessel)
- Infection in the brain such as encephalitis or meningitis
- Sudden severe rise in blood pressure
- Late-term pregnancy complications including rise in blood pressure and bleeding in the brain’s pituitary gland during pregnancy or soon after delivery
- Spasms in the blood vessels around the brain (vasoconstriction syndrome)
What are the symptoms of a thunderclap headache?
The main symptom of a thunderclap headache is sudden and severe pain in the head. This pain reaches its most intense point within 60 seconds and lasts at least 5 minutes. Other symptoms may include:
- Speech problems
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Change in vision
- Change in sensation