Thunderclap Headaches: What You Need to Know About Them

You will surely know when a headache is the so-called thunderclap headache and not any other type — because it’s so strong and sudden, it will surely grab your attention. Thunderclap headaches should not be taken lightly due to the fact that most cases of them are very serious in nature. Read on to know more about thunderclap headaches.

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Just like what their name suggests, thunderclap headaches can leave you feeling startled just like a clap of headache. Out of the blue it will make its presence known, peaking in about 60 seconds — yes, it’s that fast!

After reaching its maximum intensity, the extreme pain that thunderclap headaches bring gradually fades, sometimes in an hour. However, there are instances in which its little by little disappearance can last for up to an entire week. By the way, thunderclap headaches are also sometimes referred to as lone acute severe headaches by medical professionals.


According to doctors, some cases of thunderclap headaches are due to unknown reasons. While they are very mysterious, the intense sudden-onset pain that they bring is completely familiar to individuals who often have bouts of them.

However, there are times when thunderclap headaches can be life-threatening ones, requiring those who are experiencing them to obtain medical attention right away. Otherwise, thunderclap headaches may cost them their lives if the cause behind them is not treated immediately, potentially leading to some very serious complications.

Some of the most serious reasons behind thunderclap headaches include:

The bursting of a blood vessel in the brain 

The bursting of a blood vessel between the brain and the membranes covering the brain (meninges) 

A stroke because of a blood clot in the brain 

Severely increased blood pressure which is often referred to as hypertensive emergency or crisis 

An infection or the brain (encephalitis) or its meninges (meningitis) 

Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (clear fluid in the brain as well as spinal cord) 

Low spinal fluid pressure due to a tumor in the third ventricle of the brain

There is no need for one to be a doctor to know that the above causes of thunderclap headaches are very serious. It’s for this reason why immediate medical attention should be sought by anyone who experiences thunderclap headaches.


Not all thunderclap headaches are due to the above mentioned medical conditions. In order for a doctor to determine whether the reason behind a thunderclap headache is deadly or not, certain tests may be ordered.

Usually, the very first test done for determining the cause of thunderclap headaches is a CT scan. Short for computerized tomography, a CT scan is just like taking an x-ray of the head and brain, but in a cross-sectional manner. All of the images are combined to create a full image of the head and brain.

A more advanced and expensive diagnostic test than a CT scan may also be done, and it’s called an MRI. Short for magnetic resonance imaging, an MRI provides detailed imaging of the brain with the use of magnetic field. Sometimes an MRI may also be used for studying the flow of blood in the brain.

Finally, a spinal tap may also be done at times. Also known as lumbar puncture, this involves the collection of a little spinal fluid with the help of a syringe to have it tested.


Because thunderclap headaches can be due to so many different reasons, some of them were mentioned earlier in this article, there is no single treatment for them — the right treatment for a thunderclap headache depends on the cause.

If after undergoing the diagnostic procedures mentioned above and the root cause of a thunderclap headache is not the life-threatening kind, doctors admit that it can be very challenging to have the problem treated. That’s because individuals who suffer from thunderclap headaches with unknown causes usually do not respond well to pain medications.

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