If you’ve experienced a sudden and severe headache that hits you like a clap of thunder, more often than not, you’ve just experienced a thunderclap headache. The pain a person experiences with this type of headaches usually reaches its peak in as quick as 60 seconds and can last for about an hour, but in extreme cases, the pain can last for days or weeks. The pain is felt on both sides of the head and can be quite severe. The pain appears out of nowhere, or sometimes during or after exercise. The name for this type of headache was coined by two neurologists at the University of California, San Francisco in 1986 when they reported on the symptoms felt by a patient who was later found to have an aneurysm that has not ruptured yet. Thunderclap headaches are quite uncommon as these affect only a small fraction of the population; however, the pain may be a sign of a serious underlying condition like hemorrhaging in and around the brain. If you experience this type of headache, call a doctor and get medical help immediately.
Possible Causes of a Thunderclap Headache
In a lot of cases, this type of headache can happen for no obvious or particular physical reason; however, the headache can be caused by one of many life-threatening medical conditions which include:
- Ruptured blood vessels and aneurysms in the brain
- Bleeding in the membranes covering the brain and between the brain itself
- Blood clots
- Encephalitis or meningitis
- Bleeding or death of tissues in the pituitary gland
- Torn carotid or vertebral artery linings
- Cerebrospinal fluid leak caused by a tear in the lining that covers a nerve root in the spine
- A tumor in the brain’s third ventricle blocking cerebrospinal fluid flow
- Excessively high blood pressure
Patients who suffer from a thunderclap headache may have to undergo a series of tests in order to rule out any of these serious health conditions and to get proper treatment if the headache is indeed caused by any one of the above causes. Time is of the essence with this type of headache and a speedy diagnosis can spell the difference between life and death.
Treating Thunderclap Headaches
A thunderclap headache is not a recurring type of headache, but that doesn’t mean a person who has experienced this type of headache should take his or her time before seeing a headache specialist. Doctors often ask about the actual date and time the headache began as well as the other symptoms occurred alongside the headache to determine exactly what type of headache they are dealing with. Since there are many possible causes of this headache, proper and accurate diagnosis is essential in treating the root cause of the headache. Once the cause is determined, the patient will immediately be put on a treatment plan to treat the cause of the headache. Treatment for the underlying conditions may vary and may include taking prescription medications, therapeutic lumbar puncture, and surgery.
To be able to treat the underlying condition that can cause a thunderclap headache, it is important to take note of the onset of the headache and consult a headache specialist immediately.