A thunderclap headache is a severe and sudden headache with enough force to literally knock a person over. It feels like the worst headache of your life. The sudden impact of the headache can come out of nowhere. The pain can peak within 60-seconds, with the pain often starting to fade and clear after 60-minutes. A very severe thunderclap headache is still noticed after a period of 7 days or longer. The pain is noticed anywhere in the region of the neck or head.
A thunderclap headache is rare. But can be an early indication of a life-threatening condition. They could be giving a warning related to a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain), a brain aneurysm (swelling blood vessels), or a blood clot in the brain. Other issues may relate to pituitary apoplexy (a burst pituitary gland), a stroke, or meningitis. Since some of these conditions can result in death within hours, it is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Thunderclap headaches are dramatic and don’t come with any early warning signs. The feeling of experiencing the headache is much like a sudden kick to the head which results in crippling pain. Beside the crippling head pain, other symptoms associated with this condition include vision problems, vomiting and nausea. In the most serious cases, such as those related to bleeding in the brain, the patient is certain to fall unconscious with a short period. The pain can last for 60 minutes to seven to 10 days. The most noticeable pain starts to recede within minutes, but this can often give a false belief that the thunderclap headache is improving on its own.
Treatment given for the thunderclap headache depends on the results of the doctors check-up. The areas of greatest concern like swollen or burst blood vessels in the brain or thyroid glands are checked as a matter of urgency. It is also crucial to check for blood clots in the brain. A patient receives a MRI or CAT scan to help diagnosis the condition. If the imaging equipment detects one of the serious conditions, the patient is certain to receive immediate surgery to treat the bleeding.
If a scan is inconclusive, the patient is likely to receive a lumbar puncture or spinal tap to look at the spinal fluid. The cerebrospinal fluid can give more information on internal bleeding or reveal signs of the infection. Pain medication is given to help relieve the pain of the more persistent headache. When other symptoms are noticed like strange red marks, a stiff neck or high fever, this is often related to an outbreak of meningitis.