Thunderclap headaches live up to their name, striking suddenly like a clap of thunder. The pain of these severe headaches peaks within 60 seconds.
Thunderclap headaches are uncommon, but they can warn of potentially life-threatening conditions — usually having to do with bleeding in and around the brain. Seek emergency medical attention for a thunderclap headache.
Thunderclap headaches are dramatic. Symptoms include pain that:
Thunderclap headaches might be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as:
These signs and symptoms might reflect the underlying cause.
Seek immediate medical attention for any headache that comes on suddenly and severely.
There's no obvious cause for some thunderclap headaches. In other cases, a variety of potentially life-threatening conditions might be responsible, including:
The following tests are commonly used to try to determine the cause of a thunderclap headache.
Treatment is aimed at the cause of the headaches — if one can be found.
Thunderclap headaches are often diagnosed in an emergency room. However, if you call to set up an appointment with your own doctor, you might be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system (neurologist).
If you have time to prepare for your appointment, here's some information to help you get ready.
Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you receive.
Some questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including: