Man survived after consuming world's hottest chilli but ended with thunderclap headache

Carolina Reaper
Carolina Reaper YouTube grab

World's hottest chilli Carolina Reaper, which delivers an average of 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), can cause more than a blazing mouth. A 34-year-old man ate one of these chillies during a contest in New York State and regretted his decision for weeks.

After eating the chilli, he suddenly felt a pain in his head and neck but he faced extremely painful headaches over the next few days.

As it is the first case, the experience what he faces was published in the BMJ Case Reports, which is an important educational resource offering a high volume of cases in all disciplines so that healthcare professionals, researchers and others can easily find clinically important information on common and rare conditions.

The headache that the man experienced is called "thunderclap headache." In this alarming situation, a person can experience a sudden and strong, like a clap thunder headache that hits with a blast of severe pain and can reach their peak in just 60 seconds. These headaches can be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening medical problem.

In the case of the man, the pain developed from reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), which is a disease characterized by a weeks-long course of thunderclap headaches, sometimes focal neurologic signs, and occasionally seizures.

This condition narrows the vessels that supplies the brain with blood. Even though RCVS doesn't have any long-term ill effects, it can trigger a stroke. Dr Aneesh Singhal of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was the first specialist who described RCVS, in 2001.

Dr Kulothungan Gunasekaran, a physician at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit had analyzed the man, who ate Carolina Reaper told Reuters that substances like capsaicin, an active component of chilli peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum, can cause the shrinking of the blood vessel.

In two other cases, capsaicin triggered heart attack. Gunasekaran said one of the patients was taking the cayenne pepper capsules for weight loss and the other one used a capsaicin patch to treat pain.

Gunasekaran and his colleagues, who were taking care of the man, who experienced 'thunder claps', said the man started to have dry heaves after consuming the chilli. They also mentioned that the painful experience actually forced the man to get into the emergency room.

The medical reports showed that there is no sign of stroke or any kind of deadly headaches due to the thunderclap episode. Doctors also said that his blood pressure is also normal.

Earlier through CT angiography, which is a computed tomography technique used to visualize arterial and venous vessels throughout the body, doctors found the narrowing of four arteries delivering blood to the brain. But five weeks later when they again tested the man, they said that his arteries had returned to normal.

The thunderclap could also be caused by any of the following:

  • Small tears in the arteries of your head or neck.
  • A burst artery or an aneurysm, which is a swollen, weak area in the artery.
  • Blocked veins in your head.
  • Leaking spinal fluid.
  • Rapid changes in blood pressure.
  • An infection in the brain.

There are other activities which could trigger a thunderclap headache:

  • Hard, physical labour
  • Taking certain drugs, including illegal ones
  • Hitting warm or hot water too fast, such as when you first enter a shower or bath

Gunasekaran said that people should be cautious about the effects of hot peppers. If they do develop such symptoms, an immediate medical attention is required.