Thunderclap headache is a sudden and severe headache that hits you like a clap of thunder. The pain 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. Thunderclap headaches are quite uncommon as they 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.


Thunderclap headaches are dramatic. Symptoms include pain that:

  • Strikes suddenly and severely — sometimes described as the worst headache ever experienced
  • Peaks within 60 seconds
  • Lasts for anywhere between an hour to 10 days
  • Can occur anywhere in the head or neck
  • Can be accompanied by nausea or vomiting


Some thunderclap headaches appear as a result of  no obvious physical reason.

In other cases, potentially life-threatening conditions may be responsible, including:

  • Blood clots
  • Ruptured blood vessels and aneurysms in the brain
  • Bleeding in the membranes covering the brain and between the brain itself
  • 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 very important in this type of headache and a speedy diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death.

Risk Factors

These factors may increase the risk of thumb arthritis:

  • Age 40 or older
  • Being female
  • Some hereditary conditions, such as joint ligament laxity and malformed joints
  • Injuries to the basal joint, such as fractures and sprains
  • Diseases that change the normal structure and function of the cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain activities and jobs that put high stress on this joint


The complications include:

  • Depression secondary to chronic headache.
  • Medications-overuse headaches.
  • Sleep disturbance.


Preventive strategies, such as using stress management, physical therapy, or exercise along with medications help the prevention.  Learning to recognize and change things that may trigger the headaches, for example, reducing emotional stress, changing the diet, or getting more sleep.