There are a variety of medical conditions that are often a nuisance more than anything, but sometimes they can be very debilitating. Headaches are often considered a nuisance but most people do not know there is more than one type of headache. Different headaches can affect people in different ways and some of them are more serious than others. One type of headache you can get is called thunderclap, and it really lives up to the hype.
Thunderclap headaches are headaches that will appear as quick as thunder and be very painful. The pain is sudden and very severe, often peaking within one minute of the onset. These types of headaches can persist for over an hour before they finally start to go away and some will even last for a week. Thunderclap headaches are not very common but they could be a sign of a very serious medical condition, such as a life-threatening bleed on the brain. Whenever you experience a headache it is important to see a doctor if it persists because it could be deadly. You might be thinking that all headaches are the same, but in reality they are not. The thunderclap headaches have specific symptoms that usually will alert you something is wrong right away.
Thunderclap headaches will be dramatic which is why they are called thunderclap, because it is sudden and like a big bang. Thunderclap headaches will appear sudden and often very severely to the point of being debilitating. These headaches might be described as one of the worst headaches someone has experienced and it might also feel like someone kicked you right in the back of your head. Thunderclap headaches will reach their peak within a minute but can last for an hour up to 10 days. Thunderclap headaches will occur around the head or neck, but not always in a specific area. Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms and could either be nonstop or come in waves. Sometimes you might feel dizzy or lightheaded as well because of the severity of the pain. If you get an intense headache that seems to stay the same or get worse, you should seek medical attention right away. These types of headaches are rare but they do have specific causes that you should be aware of.
Sometimes thunderclap headaches will appear for no reason at all with an unknown cause, but sometimes there is a life-threatening situation behind it. Bleeding between the brain and the membrane that covers the brain is one of the life-threatening causes. Thunderclap headaches could occur from infections such as meningitis, severely elevated blood pressure or a blood clot in the brain. A blood vessel could have ruptured in the brain or a tear in the arterial lining might also be to blame. Another serious cause is leaking of cerebrospinal fluid which would occur as a result of a tear. The tear would be in the covering around a nerve in the root of the spine, and can lead to life-threatening complications. You might also get thunderclap headaches if you have a tumor in the third ventricle of the brain, which will block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. The death of tissue or bleeding in the pituitary gland could also cause thunderclap headaches. It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible so your doctor can perform medical tests to determine whether or not you have thunderclap headaches.
A computed tomography scan is usually what the doctor will perform first to see whether you have thunderclap headaches. The scan will look at your head to see whether or not there is an underlying cause for the headaches. The scans take x-ray pictures that will look like cross-sectional images of your brain and head. The images are put together by a computer to create a complete picture of your brain, which can help find abnormalities such as blood clots. You might also have to be injected with a special iodine-based dye to help the doctor see your arteries and veins better in the images. A spinal tap might also be performed which might be referred to as a lumbar puncture. The spinal tap is done by the doctor puncturing your lumbar vertebrae with a needle. The doctor will collect a small sample of your cerebrospinal fluid and then send it off for laboratory testing. The laboratory testing can help determine whether bleeding or an infection is the cause of the headaches. Magnetic resonance imaging might be used to look at the cross-sections of your brain in further detail if the cause is still not known. You might also undergo a magnetic resonance angiography which is where the blood flow in your brain is mapped out. This type of test is primarily used to determine whether or not there is a tumor or blood clot that is restricting blood flow to various parts of the brain. Once the doctor has performed these tests and confirmed the diagnosis, you can then move onto developing a treatment plan.
Since thunderclap headaches are pretty rare, there is not a single type of treatment the doctor can give you. Since thunderclap headaches often are the result of various life-threatening situations or underlying medical conditions, the treatment relies on treating those problems. The doctor will treat your thunderclap headaches by treating the underlying cause or medical condition and this could be done in various ways. Sometimes there might not be a cause found, in which case treatment does not exist. If your doctor can not find the cause then your treatment might just be pain medication or anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve the pain. Your doctor might also send you to see a neurologist if the thunderclap headaches continue and medications are not working. Treatment relies on treating the main cause, and treating the symptoms if there is no apparent cause. So as far as a single treatment plan, there is not anything concrete that can be done and each treatment plan varies from person to person.
Someone with thunderclap headaches needs to be aware of how long they persist as well as how severe the pain is. Since it could be a sign or a serious or life-threatening medical condition, you should seek help immediately if the pain gets worse or does not improve. You should always seek medical attention if you have any type of headache that lasts more than a few days without getting better. If the doctor finds a cause for your thunderclap headaches, then usually the pain will go away after the underlying medical condition is treated. Someone with thunderclap headaches should be alert at any changes they might experience and might need to see a neurologist for further assessment. These headaches can greatly diminish the quality of life you have and can make even the simplest tasks painful or difficult. The main thing to remember about thunderclap headaches is that you should seek medical attention because usually the cause is a serious medical condition.
Mayo Clinic, “Thunderclap headaches”, Mayo Clinic